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Manager who stole nearly $13M from USF is sentenced to 10 years in prison

Ralph Puglisi had pleaded guilty last year in a scheme that involved an adult website.
Ralph Puglisi, center, left the federal courthouse in Tampa flanked by his two lawyers on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, after pleading guilty to embezzling $12.8 million from a nonprofit company affiliated with the University of South Florida. On Monday, Sept. 26, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Ralph Puglisi, center, left the federal courthouse in Tampa flanked by his two lawyers on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, after pleading guilty to embezzling $12.8 million from a nonprofit company affiliated with the University of South Florida. On Monday, Sept. 26, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. [ DIVYA KUMAR | Times ]
Published Sep. 26

Ralph Puglisi, the former accounting manager who embezzled nearly $13 million from the University of South Florida, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Monday.

Puglisi, 60, pleaded guilty last year to using company credit cards for more than $12.8 million in charges, a large portion of which went to adult websites as well as travel, home improvements, real estate, wedding costs and other expenses.

While an initial report stated that he was expected to face 6.5 to 8 years in prison, a memo filed by his attorney last week in a Tampa federal court pushed for a shorter sentence, stating that Puglisi had a history of mental and physical illnesses, including a traumatic brain injury, that impacted his decision making.

Puglisi was an accounting manager for University Medical Service Association, a nonprofit that provides staffing and other support for USF’s health care wing. He began embezzling funds from the organization in 2014 to support what his attorney described as a luxurious lifestyle for his wife at the time, Donna McCoy.

The memo from his lawyer stated he also turned to a website, mygirlfund.com, for companionship and believed he was in a relationship with a webcam model. He began sending her money in hopes she would be able to support her family and leave the website. His lawyer said he sent her $6 million. She is being sued by USF, which is attempting to get the money back.

The memo also said Puglisi cooperated with the investigation and with USF, and so far has repaid more than $1.2 million.

An opposing memo filed Monday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office called the request for a shorter sentence “astonishing and unreasonable.” It said that “greed, deception, reckless expenditures of fraud proceeds, and acquisition of personal assets” drove the crimes.

As part of his sentence, Puglisi will be held responsible for paying back the full amount to USF and the court entered an order of forfeiture in the amount of $12.8 million.

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