Peter Osinoff, an attorney representing former University of Southern California (USC) medical school dean Carmen Puliafito, 67, acknowledged at a state medical board hearing that the doctor had used hard drugs while employed by the university. However, it was argued that the doctor has been in recovery for months and should be allowed to continue utilizing this license to practice medicine.
The media had previously presented details regarding Puliafito’s double life, using drugs and partying with criminals, which prompted the medical board to investigate the Harvard-trained ophthalmologist. Photos and videos shot in 2015 and 2016 showed Puliafito and others partying in hotel rooms, cars, apartments, and in his USC office. As dean, Puliafito oversaw hundreds of medical students, thousands of professors and clinicians, and research grants totaling more than $200 million. He resigned from his $1.1-million position in March 2016.
At the recent hearing, Osinoff indicated that his client suffers from a mental illness that makes him brilliant and leaves him with “immense energy,” but instills an “ugly side” which caused him to be infatuated with a young prostitute, Sarah Warren. Warren introduced the doctor to the “street drugs” that ultimately caused him to spiral out of control.
Osinoff insisted Puliafito was “addicted” to Warren “and to a lesser degree the drugs,” but said that the former dean has since been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has been able to manage his mental health issues. “Compared to [Sarah Warren’s] use of drugs and alcohol, his use was light. She was a hardcore addict. He used drugs so he could be close to her,” Osinoff said.
The medical board alleged that while Puliafito still had an operable license, he “would return to his medical office to see patients within hours of using methamphetamine” and supplied drugs to Warren and her minor brother Charles Warren. Puliafito provided Charles Warren with methamphetamine and pipes when he was only 17.
Osinoff said Wednesday the doctor never illegally supplied drugs while exercising this license to practice, was never high while seeing patients and has never been the subject of a patient complaint. Puliafito stopped using methamphetamine last July, according to his attorney.
Osinoff said, further, that his client was blinded by his choices and “oblivious to the consequences.” Puliafito spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Warren, paying for housing, clothing, rehab and other expenses, while she stole from him and “drugged him without his consent.” The attorney argued that Warren’s parents tried to “shake him down” for money under threat of making her available to reporters.
“This is a case about mental illness and its effects upon a very high-functioning person who managed it well, largely without treatment, for 64 years,” Osinoff said.
Deputy Atty. Gen. Rebecca Smith claimed Puliafito is unfit to practice medicine because of a substance abuse disorder, is a “danger to the public” and engaged in “egregious conduct at the expense of his female companion and her minor brother.”
USC has been no stranger to controversy as of late. Puliafito’s successor to the deanship, Rohit Varma, also stepped down as the media prepared to publish a story about a sexual harassment allegation against him that resulted in a $135,000 payout to his alleged victim. It was then reported that Dr. George Tyndall, a USC gynecologist at the campus’ student health center, continued to practice despite two decades worth of complaints against him. He has denied any wrongdoing.