In USC’s lecture halls, labs and executive offices, Dr. Carmen A. 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.
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.
Shot in 2015 and 2016, they show Puliafito and the others partying in hotel rooms, cars, apartments and the dean’s office at USC.
In one video, a tuxedo-clad Puliafito displays an orange pill on his tongue and says into the camera, “Thought I’d take an ecstasy before the ball.” Then he swallows the pill.
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.
As dean, Puliafito oversaw hundreds of medical students, thousands of professors and clinicians, and research grants totaling more than $200 million. He was a key fundraiser for USC, bringing in more than $1 billion in donations, by his estimation.
Puliafito resigned his $1.1-million-a-year post in March 2016, in the middle of the spring term, saying he wanted to explore outside opportunities.
Three weeks earlier, a 21-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.
And man, this story gets brutal from here. Puliafito was a party monster, heavy on both the party and the monster, and a woman nearly paid with her life as a result. It's an astonishing account, and the Times spent months running this story down.
The most gonzo part of the story is that Puliafito kept himself in one piece while doing benders that would make Keith Richards blush and still show up to work the next day...and he was fantastic as both a dean and as an eye surgeon, by all accounts.
It's a hell of a thing, doc.