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Ex-USF employee pleads guilty after review found he embezzled $12.8 million

He spent some of the money on yachts and women on an adult website, his plea deal says.
Credit: burdun - stock.adobe.com

TAMPA, Fla. — A former USF employee has reached a plea deal after being accused of embezzling $12.8 million from his employer.

Ralph Puglisi worked for years as an accounting manager at the University of South Florida’s University Medical Services Association (UMSA). In that role, he oversaw UMSA's credit cards.

According to his plea deal, he used the credit cards to make purchases for himself between June 2014 and November 2019. Prosecutors say he spent the money on rent, home repairs, travel and chartered yachts. He also paid women on an interactive adult website, according to court documents.

These charges were masked in the UMSA's financial record, USF said.

Puglisi was fired shortly after the thefts were uncovered. His immediate supervisor and an internal auditor were both fired, too.

If approved by a judge, Puglisi's agreement would have him plead guilty to mail fraud. He'd be ordered to pay $12.8 million in restitution and could face a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Puglisi appeared in court on Aug. 26 to enter the guilty plea. The sentencing will happen at a later date.

"He's accepted responsibility. He's been coorperating to the extent where we have a substantial amount of restitution to pay back to the University of South Florida and hopefully put him in a position where at the end of the day he can put this behind him," said criminal defense attorney Anthony Rickman.  

UMSA says it has upgraded its financial reporting systems to prevent such a large-scale fraud from happening again.