Under the leadership of Dr. Carmen Puliafito, the University of Miami’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute rose to national prominence in 2004, voted as the best specialty eye-care center in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
Bascom Palmer has kept its good name. But Puliafito, who left UM in 2007 under accusations of sexual harassment and assault on a fellow physician, did not.
Puliafito, 66, became the dean of the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, a position in which he oversaw hundreds of medical students, thousands of professors and clinicians, and research grants totaling more than $200 million. He was also a key fundraiser for USC, bringing in more than $1 billion in donations.
He stepped down from his $1.1 million-a-year position at USC in March 2016, saying he wanted to explore other opportunities.
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What followed, according to an exposé by the Los Angeles Times, was an unmasking of Puliafito’s double life.
According to the Times, three weeks prior to Puliafito’s resignation from USC, a 21-year-old woman overdosed in his presence in a Southern California hotel room. The woman was rushed to a hospital, where she recovered.
Police found methamphetamine in the hotel room, but made no arrests. Puliafito has never spoken publicly about the incident, which was reported by the Times for the first time.
According to the Times’ report, Puliafito kept company with a circle of criminals and drug users who said the doctor used methamphetamine and other drugs with them.
His double life was chronicled in numerous photos and videos, taken in 2015 and 2016 and reviewed by the Times, of Puliafito taking pills and smoking from glass pipes — used to consume methamphetamine — with people who were much younger. The photos and videos have not been published.
During Puliafito’s six-year tenure in Miami, from 2001 to 2007, there were signs of trouble. According to the Times’ report, Marc Brockman, an optometrist at the Miami institute, filed a lawsuit against Puliafito in 2006 for assault and battery and accused the university of negligence in hiring him.
Brockman claimed that Puliafito threw a “tantrum” over an inoperable piece of medical equipment, grabbed him by the collar of his lab coat and choked him.
Puliafito denied wrongdoing, but during the case it emerged that UM had investigated separate complaints of sexual harassment against Puliafito, according to the Times’ report.
Puliafito and UM reached a confidential settlement with Brockman in June 2007. UM officials declined to comment on Puliafito’s tenure at Bascom Palmer or the revelations in the Times story on Monday.
According to the Times’ investigation, Puliafito has no known criminal record, and public records show no reprimands or disciplinary actions on the medical licenses he holds in California and three other states. A review of court records in those states found no malpractice claims against him.
After Puliafito stepped down as dean, the Times reported, USC kept him on faculty as a professor of ophthalmology and health management. He continues to see new patients at campus eye clinics, according to Keck’s website.