USC is attempting to distance itself from the former dean of its medical school at the center of a drug scandal, downplaying Dr. Carmen Puliafito’s much-touted performance as a fundraiser for the university.
Albert Checcio, USC’s senior vice president for university advancement, said in a letter to alumni and supporters that assertions that Puliafito raised more than $1 billion while leading the Keck School of Medicine were overblown and that the physician was personally responsible for collecting barely 1% of that amount over the last seven years.
Puliafito, while Keck dean, associated with a circle of drug abusers and criminals who said he often used methamphetamine and other drugs with them. He served nearly a decade as dean before abruptly resigning in March 2016.
The letter from Checcio said the credit for the $1.2 billion in gifts to Keck in the last seven years is shared by many people, including individual researchers, department chairs, and physicians, as well as USC President C.L. Max Nikias.
“What these gifts illustrate is that fundraising at a multifaceted research university like USC is a collaborative effort, especially in medicine, where the relationships that donors build with all members of their healthcare team are paramount to philanthropic support,” Checcio wrote.
The university has been plagued with scandals in the past including football players imprisoned for dealing drugs.
University leaders, including Nikias, previously praised Puliafito’s prowess with donors, going back to his arrival at USC. Introducing him to the campus in 2007, then-provost Nikias, who led the search committee that selected the dean, described him as “a fundraiser of singular quality.”
Then-Dean Carmen A. Puliafito, Dr. Inderbir S. “Indy” Gill, and actors Shirley MacLaine, Annette Bening and Warren Beatty at a USC Keck School Of Medicine event in 2009. (Rebecca Sapp / WireImage)
When Puliafito was up for reappointment in 2012, he listed fundraising as a key accomplishment, writing in a self-assessment that he had secured $500 million in contributions in his nearly five years as dean at that point. Nikias, who had become president, decided to keep Puliafito on for a second term over the objections of some faculty and staff, who expressed concerns about what they said was brusque behavior and excessive drinking.
Throughout his years as dean, Puliafito was a public face of the school’s efforts to court donors. He co-hosted Westside galas that raised money for Keck, welcoming celebrity guests such as Jay Leno and Pierce Brosnan and praising the gathered philanthropists. Photos of these events show Puliafito posing with big-name donors like Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, the late Paramount Pictures Chairman Brad Grey, and David and Dana Dornsife.
Puliafito stepped down as dean three weeks after a young woman suffered a drug overdose in his presence in a Pasadena hotel room. His involvement in the overdose was not publicly disclosed for weeks and many claims it was a coverup by the university.
Finally, USC was forced to fire Puliafito, forbidding him to see patients, canceled his prescription license and barred him from campus.