USF accounting director pleads guilty to embezzling $12.8 million

TAMPA — Federal Judge William Jung answered a series of questions Thursday to make sure Ralph Puglisi understood the terms of his plea deal.

“You plead guilty because you did this, what is alleged between pages 17 and 18?” asked the judge.

“Yes, your honor,” Puglisi said, making his first court appearance since the University of South Florida announced Aug. 12 that he had embezzled $12.8 million from a nonprofit corporation. profit affiliated with the school. The company, University Medical Service Association, provides personnel and other support to USF health care operations.

Related: Accounting director who managed USF health care funds embezzled millions

Puglisi, 59, an accounting manager there, had used company credit cards to pay for home renovations, charter yachts, rent payments and transactions on an adult entertainment website, according to the plea agreement.

He said $1.3 million was laundered through payments to a woman on the site who kept 40% and returned 60% to Puglisi, including through a check in the mail, which which resulted in a federal mail fraud charge.

A separate USF investigative report, not included in the deal, claimed that at least $11.5 million of the stolen funds went to the adult website.

“You embezzled or stole USF funds, is that what you did?” Jung asked.

“Yes, your honor.”

He also questioned whether Puglisi had actually recruited the woman, whom the USF report believed to be his stepson’s fiancée, into “what do we call her?” Bleaching thing on the adult site with this lady? »

Puglisi admitted he did, waiving his right to a trial.

The judge asked about Puglisi’s upbringing and whether he felt unduly influenced and in the right frame of mind to make the decision, before accepting his plea.

Assistant United States Attorney Robert Mosakowski said the government is not seeking detention or cash bail. Instead, Puglisi will remain in his home under the care of his brother, Robert Puglisi Jr., until sentencing, except for a trip to Atlanta to treat a traumatic brain injury.

He must also not be under the influence of alcohol or other substances. The Puglisi brothers have signed a bond of $100,000 if the terms of the agreement are breached.

Outside the courthouse, Puglisi’s attorney, Anthony Rickman, said more information about Puglisi’s brain injury – and the role she played in the crime – would be released as it becomes available. as the case progresses.

“Obviously there’s something in there,” he said.

The judge said a teleconference between lawyers would be held in November to set a sentencing date. Under the deal, Puglisi faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a fine of $250,000, which is double the amount of any profit made or money lost to others in the crime, according to the highest amount. The sentence will also include three years of probation.

Jung said the government had recommended the lower end of the sentencing range, but Puglisi’s agreement meant he would have to accept the judge’s sentence.

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Rickman said Puglisi had complied and was taking action to return the money. The court document says he agrees to liquidate several assets, including property he owns in Palm Harbor and the Virgin Islands, his Audi, jewelry, memorabilia and certain bank accounts.

The judge told Puglisi that a breach of bail conditions could result in a prison sentence.

“We don’t want any breach of obligations,” he told Puglisi. “Follow that chalk line. I know you will.”

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