LAT investigation alleges USC destroyed evidence

Exterior of the Keck School of Medicine building.
The University had the Warren family turn over all incriminating evidence to USC officials. (Simon Park | Daily Trojan file photo)

Content warning: This article contains references of illicit drug consumption and sexual abuse. 

To diffuse an ongoing drug-fueled dispute, USC attorneys agreed to a settlement that paid $1.5 million to Sarah Warren and her family in November 2017. The settlements occurred under the condition that the Warren family would relinquish photo and video evidence of ex-dean of the Keck School of Medicine Carmen Puliafito engaging in sexual activity and illicit drug consumption, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. 

Sarah Warren, 21 years old at the time, overdosed in a Pasadena hotel room after Puliafito gave her gamma-hydroxybutyrate, a sedative sometimes used in small doses as an intoxicant and also commonly abused as a “date-rape drug.”

Ten days following the incident, an anonymous witness called former USC president C.L. Max Nikias who described Puliafito’s involvement with Warren’s overdose, according to the L.A. Times. 

Shortly after the witness contacted the University, Puliafito submitted his resignation in March 2016. Following his resignation, the L.A. Times uncovered a history of Puliafito engaging in prohibited activities with criminals and drug users during his tenure as dean. Warren met Puliafito in 2015 as a sex worker and said Puliafito used methamphetamine and other drugs during parties inside the dean’s office.

The California Medical Board launched an investigation into Puliafito after learning from the L.A. Times that he used methamphetamine and other drugs extensively when he served as dean. On Sept. 27, the board voted to suspend his medical license pending a final decision on his fitness to practice.  

When Warren’s parents threatened to sue the University after details of the dean’s companionship with their daughter surfaced, USC officials offered the Warrens compensation in exchange for all documentation of Puliafito’s drug use, the L.A. Times reported. 

In response, the Warrens agreed to turn over all incriminating evidence to USC officials. The L.A. Times’ investigation found the University destroyed videos and photos depicting Pulifaito’s infidelity, along with other information tying his misconduct to the University. As of Sept. 30, it is unclear if USC officials obtained copies of the Warrens’ records.

A University spokesperson declined to provide comment to the Daily Trojan or the L.A. Times on whether they have copies of the destroyed information. 

“We don’t have anything to add beyond what was reported in the Los Angeles Times,” the spokesperson said.

While President Carol Folt denied an interview request with the L.A. Times, a spokesperson from her office stated it would be inappropriate for her to comment as she did not serve in USC leadership when the settlement was reached. 

The settlement between USC and the Warrens prohibits the family from disclosing any of the details of the case to the public.

Puliafito’s record of misconduct doesn’t stop short of his time at USC. Prior to joining the University as Dean of the Keck School of Medicine, Puliafito was director of the University of Miami’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute from 2001 to 2007. During his tenure at the institute, the University of Miami investigated Puliafito for claims of sexual harassment. 

In addition to the allegations of unwanted sexual advances, Marc Brockman, a colleague of Puliafito who worked as an optometrist, filed a suit against Puliafito for assault and battery in 2006. Puliafito denied all wrongdoing, and he and the University of Miami reached a separate settlement with Brockman in June 2007, the L.A. Times reported. Two months after the settlement, USC hired Puliafito as dean.

Correction: the headline was updated to provide more context.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that The District Attorney’s office is currently deliberating over whether to bring felony charges against Puliafito. Deputy Dist. Atty. Mark Burnley wrote that “the current state of the case does not establish sufficient evidence to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to the Los Angeles Times. The Daily Trojan regrets these errors.