Under the leadership of Dr. Carmen Puliafito, the University of Miami’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute rose to national prominence in 2004, voted as the best specialty eye-care center in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
Bascom Palmer has kept its good name. But Puliafito, who left UM in 2007 under a cloud of accusations of sexual harassment and assaulting a fellow physician, did not.
Puliafito, 66, became the dean of the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, a position he resigned in March 2016, saying he wanted to explore other opportunities.
What followed, according to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times, was an unmasking of Puliafito’s double life.
According to the Times, three weeks prior to Puliafito’s resignation from USC, a 21-year-old woman had overdosed in his presence in a Southern California hotel room. The woman was rushed to a hospital, where she recovered.
Police found methamphetamine in the hotel room, but made no arrests. Puliafito has never spoken publicly about the incident, which was reported by the Times for the first time.
The Times reported that Puliafito’s double life was chronicled in numerous photos and videos that have surfaced of him taking pills and smoking from glass pipes, used to consume methamphetamine, with people much younger than him.
According to the Times, there were signs of trouble during Puliafito’s six-year tenure in Miami, from 2001 to 2007.
Marc Brockman, an optometrist at the institute, filed a lawsuit against Puliafito in 2006 for assault and battery and accused the university of negligence in hiring him, the Times reported. Brockman alleged that Puliafito threw a “tantrum” over an inoperable piece of medical equipment, grabbed him by the collar of his lab coat and choked him.
Puliafito denied wrongdoing, according to the Times, but during the case it emerged that the university had investigated separate complaints of sexual harassment against Puliafito, according to testimony and court filings in the lawsuit.
Puliafito and the university reached a confidential settlement with Brockman in June 2007.
According to the Times’ investigation, Puliafito has no known criminal record, and public records show no reprimands or disciplinary actions 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.
After Puliafito stepped down as dean, the Times reported, USC kept him on faculty, and he continues to see new patients at campus eye clinics, according to Keck’s website.