Puliafito was a towering figure. The dean of the Keck School of Medicine was a renowned eye surgeon whose skill in the operating room was matched by a gift for attracting money and talent to the university. There was another side to the Harvard-educated physician. Advertisement During his tenure as dean, Puliafito kept company with a circle of criminals and drug users who said he used methamphetamine and other drugs with them, a Los Angeles Times investigation found.
Puliafito, 66, and these much younger acquaintances captured their exploits in photos and videos. The Times reviewed dozens of the images. Advertisement In another, Puliafito uses a butane torch to heat a large glass pipe outfitted for methamphetamine use. He inhales and then unleashes a thick plume of white smoke. Seated next to him on a sofa, a young woman smokes heroin from a piece of heated foil.
Three weeks earlier, a year-old woman had overdosed in his presence in a Pasadena hotel room. The woman was rushed to a hospital, where she recovered.
Police found methamphetamine in the hotel room, according to a police report, but made no arrests. Puliafito has never spoken publicly about the incident, which is being reported here for the first time. Advertisement USC leaders hired Dr. Puliafito in to raise the profile of the Keck School of Medicine.
He had helped invent a laser technology that revolutionized treatment of eye diseases. Puliafito did not respond to interview requests or written questions. Earlier, in an email he sent to the newspaper shortly after resigning as dean, Puliafito said he made the move voluntarily in order to pursue a biotech job. Nor did the university press office. They ranged in age from late teens to late thirties.
None were USC students. One, Sarah Warren, was the woman who overdosed in the Pasadena hotel room. She told The Times she met Puliafito in early while working as a prostitute. She said they were constant companions for more than a year and a half, and that Puliafito used drugs with her and sometimes brought her and other members of their circle to the USC campus after hours to party. Puliafito has no known criminal record, and public records show no blemishes 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. Sarah Warren met Puliafito in early He is highly regarded in the field of ophthalmology and regularly addresses doctors at national conventions and training seminars.
Over the last decade, he has coauthored more than 60 medical journal articles on retinal disease and other topics. Since , he has served on the governing board of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, the state agency that oversees stem cell research. Just before 5 p. The hotel employee transferred a Fire Department dispatcher to a third-floor room. Authorities did not release her name. The Times identified her as Warren through interviews, social media and property records.
Warren, now 22, has been in an Orange County drug treatment program since November, and said she no longer has contact with Puliafito. She talked about their relationship in a series of interviews. Do you have information about USC's former med school dean? Advertisement A recording made the night before the overdose shows Puliafito and Warren in a room at the hotel. Warren is later shown bending over a tray with several lines of white powder.
In a separate video of Puliafito and Warren, recorded at another hotel about a day after her overdose, she blames the Hotel Constance episode on GHB.
Puliafito is seen with what appears to be a meth pipe in his hand and, later, in his mouth. Sources with access to these and other videos and photos of Puliafito allowed The Times to view the images on the condition they not be published. Warren said she and Puliafito had been partying at the upscale Hotel Constance in Pasadena when a dose of the drug GHB left her "completely incapacitated. The witness spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity. Concerned that Pasadena police were not investigating, the witness then approached The Times.
The newspaper asked the Police Department for its report on the overdose. Initially, a department spokeswoman said there was no report, apart from a call-for-service log. After The Times made repeated requests for additional information, the department acknowledged that an officer at the scene should have prepared a report.
The officer was ordered to do so in June — three months after the incident. The rest of the document is heavily redacted. Pasadena police prepared a report on the Hotel Constance episode only after The Times repeatedly asked for information about it.
The heavily redacted report identifies Puliafito as a witness to the overdose and as a friend of the victim. The department also released an evidence report that shows officers seized a little over a gram of methamphetamine from the hotel room.
Under state law, possession of methamphetamine could be charged as a misdemeanor. Warren said they never interviewed her. That was too low for USC leaders, who saw a top-rated medical school as crucial to their national aspirations.
They needed a dean who could deliver the money and marquee researchers to make Keck an elite institution. He had a track record of building institutions and raising their profiles. There, he presided over a doubling of faculty and tripling of research funding, according to school news releases. His time at Miami was not trouble-free. Marc Brockman, an optometrist at the institute, filed a lawsuit against Puliafito in for assault and battery and accused the university of negligence in hiring him.
During the case, it emerged that the university had investigated separate complaints of sexual harassment against Puliafito, according to sworn testimony and court filings in the lawsuit. The records do not reveal the outcome of the investigation, and a university spokeswoman said in response to questions about the probe: Two months later, USC hired Puliafito.
Warren said Puliafito was her constant companion for more than a year and a half. She offered him meth, she said, and he accepted. She said it was clear he was comfortable around drugs.
Warren said that after that first encounter, they began seeing each other regularly. The images viewed by The Times reflect an easy familiarity between Warren and Puliafito. Puliafito rented apartments for her in Huntington Beach and near his home in Pasadena so she would always be available, she said. He gave her spending money and covered her legal bills, she said.
During their time together, Warren was arrested four times on charges that include drug possession, drunk driving and petty theft, court records show. She pleaded guilty or no contest in each case and was placed on probation, given community service or ordered to pay fines.
She said he would spend the night with her in apartments or hotel rooms he paid for, leave early in the morning to go to his home and then return to her with breakfast. Puliafito glided confidently through these events, posing for photos with Gwyneth Paltrow and Pierce Brosnan and chatting up tech mogul Larry Ellison and mega-developer Rick Caruso. Puliafito chat at a lecture series at the Bel Air Hotel.