Here's Everything You Need To Know About USC's Many, Many Scandals

The entrance to the Engemann Student Health Center on the campus of the University of Southern California (Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

USC has been repeatedly rocked with scandal, after scandal, after scandal this past year and a half — from doctors accused of sexually abusing students to the medical school dean's involvement with a prostitute and hard drugs. Having trouble keeping up? Here's a quick recap:


On March 12, 2019 the U.S. Justice Department revealed that it had charged four current and former USC athletic officials with corruption charges related to a national college admission bribery scheme.

Prosecutors said the conspiracy was orchestrated by Newport Beach resident William "Rick" Singer through a college admission advising company and a non-profit charity. Singer used decades of experience as an independent college admissions advisor and relationships with college officials and test taking employees nationwide to promise parents guaranteed admission to elite colleges.

Prosecutors charged the following with racketeering conspiracy:

- Donna Heinel, USC senior associate athletic director
- Ali Khosroshahin, former head coach of USC women's soccer
- Laura Janke, former USC assistant coach of women's soccer
- Jovan Vavic, USC water polo coach

On the day of the investigation USC announced it had fired Heinel and Vavic. Lawyers for the four could not be reached for comment. They're scheduled to appear in court on March 25.

Prosecutors alleged that the USC employees worked with Singer to greenlight fabricated sports histories and achievements so that students would be admitted to USC as athletic recruits.

In one instance prosecutors allege that Singer schemed with Las Vegas resident Gamal Abdelaziz to fabricate basketball playing history and awards for his daughter that would be submitted to Heinel in order to admit her to the university as an athletic recruit. Abdelaziz paid Singer's charity $300,000. His daughter was admitted as a recruit and Singer's foundation began sending Heinel monthly $20,000 payments.

Page 89 of federal indictment details involvement of Lisa Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli in a college admission fraud scheme. (US DOJ document)

Singer's list of wealthy clients included business owners and Hollywood actors.

Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion entrepreneur Mossimo Giannulli allegedly paid Singer's charity $500,000 for Singer to create rowing achievements in order for their two daughters to be accepted into USC. Prosecutors said Singer asked Giannulli to mail $50,000 directly to USC's Heinel.

Unlike USC's other scandals, this one did not appear to show that the university's top administrators knew about wrongdoing and failed to act to stop it. USC made that point in its statement reacting to the college admission investigation.

"USC has not been accused of any wrongdoing and will continue to cooperate fully with the government's investigation. We understand that the government believes that illegal activity was carried out by individuals who went to great lengths to conceal their actions from the university. USC is conducting an internal investigation," USC's media office said in an email.


In July 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported a major scandal that appeared stranger than fiction: Carmen Puliafito, the dean of USC's medical school and a nationally recognized opthamologist, had cavorted with a prostitute and criminals, used hard drugs with them both on and off campus, and tried to cover up a fellow drug user's overdose.

Carmen A. Puliafito (Photo by Tonya Wise/Invision/AP)

One of the most damning accusations was that USC staff knew of Puliafito's behavior. That put a blinding spotlight on USC President Max Nikias. Puliafito was quietly removed as dean but continued to see patients at USC.

The university faced problems with Puliafito's replacement, too. USC had appointed Rohit Varma - also an opthamologist - as medical school dean, but withdrew the appointment after reporters found that Varma had settled a sexual harassment claim by a female researcher in 2003.

In July 2018, the California Medical Board suspended Puliafito's license to practice medicine.

The university's handling of this and accusations that USC's gynecologists abused students over a span of nearly 30 years shook the administration to its core.


The Los Angeles Times first reported in May 2018 that women had complained to university staff that during medical appointments campus gynecologist George Tyndall had performed unwanted pelvic exams, had made crude sexual comments, and had taken pictures of them naked.

USC created a telephone hotline to document the allegations. The LAPD announced that detectives had begun to interview 52 alleged victims, some who had called the hotline, as part of a criminal investigation against Tyndall.

"We believe that with only 52 people coming forward at this point in time, that's probably not an accurate representation of the people that saw him and the potential individuals that might have been victims," said LAPD Captain William Hayes. He speculated there could be as many as 10,000 victims, because Tyndall had been a doctor at USC for nearly 30 years.

Tyndall and his lawyers consistently denied that he did anything wrong.

Women who claimed they were Tyndall's victims began to flock to lawyers who helped them file lawsuits alleging the gynecologist sexually assaulted them and that USC was negligent, because it allowed Tyndall to continue seeing patients after women complained. By one count, more than 600 women have filed these kinds of suits.

By August 2018, the mounting allegations, the investigation and a public letter critical of the university signed by hundreds of professors led USC President Nikias to resign. USC's trustees appointed longtime aerospace executive Wanda Austin as interim president and vowed to conduct a national search for a permanent replacement for Nikias with wide input from USC students, faculty and staff.

USC's board of trustees is engaged in the process of picking a new president for the university Some faculty want a reformer to clean house up and down the administrative chain of command, while others want someone who will take a more moderate approach.

On Feb. 12, 2019, USC and plaintiffs' lawyers filed a $215 million settlement agreement in federal court. It includes proposed reforms to USC's student health practices, including the appointment of a women's health advocate and increased pre-hiring background checks of new health hires to find any incidents of sexual harassment or gender-based violence.

The agreement creates a tiered system for payments to victims ranging from $2,500 to $250,000, depending on the severity of the case. But not all of Tyndall's victims will join the class action. Lawyers for some women who sued Tyndall and USC in state court said the available amounts are too low "for the severe abuse that they suffered and the emotional and psychological suffering that they've been dealing with for years and years and years," said Vince Finaldi, a lawyer who's helped dozens of women sue the university and Tyndall.


On Feb. 11, 2019 a third USC doctor became the target of abuse allegations after six men sued USC and Dr. Dennis Kelly, the former campus men's health physician. The plaintiffs allege they were sexually assaulted as students by Kelly at USC's student health center. The men identify as gay and bisexual and claim Kelly targeted them because of their sexual orientation. The suit alleges that Kelly did not explain the reasons for rectal examinations and used inappropriate language when asking the students about their sexual activities.

"Despite receiving repeated complaints regarding Dr. Kelly's misconduct, USC actively and deliberately failed to investigate, discipline, or address Dr. Kelly's sexually abusive and discriminatory behavior and instead, continued to employ Dr. Kelly for years," the suit said.

When asked by the L.A. Times, Kelly - who retired last year - denied the accusations and said his behavior with patients was professional. For its part, USC said it will release information about the allegations as it becomes available.

"We are aware of the lawsuit and are concerned by its allegations. We're working to understand the facts of this matter. We care deeply about our entire Trojan family, including our LGBTQ+ community," a USC spokeswoman said in an email.

The allegations against Kelly and criticism of how USC handled complaints echo in some similar regards accusations against Puliafito and Tyndall.


Mar 15, 2019: This article was updated to include a federal criminal investigation into an alleged college exam and admissions fraud scheme.

This article was originally published on Feb.21, 2019.