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LAT: ‘Secret Life’ of former USC Med School dean, stem cell agency director

Carmen Puliafito (right), a member of the governing board of the California stem agency, and Robert Klein, then chairman of the agency. (Photo: USC, 2009)

The headline in the Los Angeles Times this morning said: “An overdose, a young companion, drug-fueled parties: The secret life of USC med school dean”

Put together by a team of five reporters, the article called Carmen Puliafito a “towering figure,” a “renowned eye surgeon” and a prodigious fund raiser, bringing in more than $1 billion for USC by his own estimate. And then it said, “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.”

 He still serves, as a gubernatorial appointee, on the board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

“Puliafito, 66, and these much younger acquaintances captured their exploits in photos and videos. The Times reviewed dozens of the images.”

Puliafito resigned his $1.1 million position as dean in March 2016, declaring he wanted to pursue outside opportunities. He still serves, as a gubernatorial appointee, on the board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the stem cell agency is formally known. The board position pays $100 a day for meeting attendance. The board meets 10 to 12 times a year.

USC has received $110 million from CIRM since 2004, ranking No. 6 among all California institutions that have won stem cell awards from the state agency. USC has had a representative on the board since its inception in 2004.

Puliafito remains on the USC faculty and continues to accept patients. He is a “central witness” in a $185 million, legal wrangle involving UC San Diego researcher Paul Aisen. Puliafito has described himself as the “quarterback” in the effort to hire Aisen away from UC San Diego.

The Times wrote:

“Curing Alzheimer’s is a top priority for government agencies and pharmaceutical companies, and Aisen’s lab was overseeing groundbreaking research, including drug trials at 70 locations around the world. More than $340 million in funding was expected to flow to his lab, according to court records.

“UC contended in its suit that its private school rival went beyond the bounds of academic recruiting by targeting professors and labs based on grant funding. The suit accused USC of civil conspiracy, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty and other misconduct.”

Puliafito’s current term on the stem cell agency board term expired Nov. 3, 2016, according to a governor’s office document. However, members of the board may serve until a replacement is named. He was appointed in 2008 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and reappointed by Schwarzenegger in 2010.

In response to a query, Kevin McCormack, senior director of communications for the agency, said via email, “We were surprised to read the allegations about Dean Puliafito in the Los Angeles Times. Since being appointed to the CIRM Board by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in late 2008, Dean Puliafito has served with distinction, bringing knowledge, expertise and deep commitment to our mission.”

Ed’s Note: CORRECTS 10th graf to show Puliafito was reappointed to the stem cell agency board in 2010 by Arnold Schwarzenegger, not Jerry Brown.

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