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March 28, 2024 30 mins

An unconscious young woman in a room full of drugs: that’s the scene at the Hotel Constance in Pasadena, California. But when the hotel manager tries to call 911, the woman’s much older companion tells him that won’t be necessary – he’s a doctor. The manager makes the call anyway. And yet, when the police and paramedics arrive, this so-called doctor simply…walks away. And then the hotel manager learns who this man is: his name is Carmen Puliafito, and he’s the dean of the medical school at the University of Southern California (USC).

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:08):
There's a kind of inside joke in the hotel industry
that the last guest of the day is typically your worst.

Speaker 2 (00:16):
That's Devon Khan. He's a reservation supervisor at the hotel
Constance in Pasadena, California.

Speaker 1 (00:24):
It's always that last person that prevents you from being
able to go home on time.

Speaker 3 (00:32):
Not me, basically my girlfriend.

Speaker 4 (00:34):
There ahead a bunch of breaks. Breathing right now, you're
absolutely breathing, and I'm a doctor at is.

Speaker 5 (00:41):
You wake out?

Speaker 4 (00:43):

Speaker 1 (00:44):
Now, I'm pretty sure I'm not going home anytime soon.

Speaker 2 (00:51):
Devon Khan has been in the hotel business for most
of his career, and working in hospitality has shown him
some truth about.

Speaker 5 (00:58):
Human nature, not all of it.

Speaker 2 (01:00):
Great Gevon knows that once you get pass an upscale
hotel's elegant lobby on the other side of that do
not disturb sign all kinds of human dramas play out,
and people are not always what they see. This is
a story that begins in a hotel room in Pasadena

and it ends with the undoing of some of the
most powerful people in Los Angeles. It's about influence and
money and how they can eat away at people and
make them look past things they know are very, very wrong.
My name is Paul Pringle. I'm an investigative reporter for
the La Times. This is Fallen Angels, a story of

California corruption, Episode one.

Speaker 5 (01:50):
The Hotel Constance.

Speaker 2 (02:04):
Pasadena, California is a smaller city wrapped into greater in
La Leafy, largely old money, rich and quiet. It's a
place you can raise a family even if you're not
part of the town's upper class, and Devon Khan is not.

Speaker 1 (02:19):
I was living in Pasadena with my wife and my
daughter and had gone through a few career ups and
downs and kind of bounced around from a few hotels
and reinvented myself as a massage therapist and was also
doing uber I always found a way to earn money

and keep a chicken in the pot, so to speak.

Speaker 2 (02:48):
The Hotel Constance opened in the nineteen twenties. It went
through some tough times over the years. For a while
it was a retirement home, but it's been renovated and
now it bills itself as the only luxury, boutine hotel
in this part of town.

Speaker 1 (03:02):
The clientele that we catered to was kind of really
all over the place. Because our rates were relatively low.
We really had a mix of people who were affluent
and came to the hotel because it was a brand
new hotel in old town Pasadena. But we also attracted

the late night partiers who found a one hundred and
nineteen dollars rate online, and so you never knew who
you were going to get.

Speaker 2 (03:37):
It's Friday, March fourth, twenty sixteen, and Devon is finishing
up his shift. It's been a long day.

Speaker 1 (03:44):
The day of the incident, I wasn't in a particularly
good mood. I had been passed over for promotion that
was pretty much promised to me by the previous general manager.
There was no leadership at the hotel. Everyone was across
the street at the corporate office. I'd say probably somewhere

around three o'clock, the front desk agent called me and
asked if I could assist him because there was someone
who wanted to speak to a manager. And I went
to the desk and tried to get the gist of
what the situation was. There was a guest that was
supposed to check out but wanted to extend his stay.

It was room three oh four. I'd looked to see
what the name of the guests was in the room.
It did come up as Carmen Puliafido. Once I arrived
to the third floor, everything about the situation was not
what I expected. Waiting for me at the elevator was

a housekeeping supervisor and a security agent. They stopped me
before I went to the room and gave me a
heads up that inside the room there was an unconscious
female whom they were very concerned about that they felt
that she needed medical attention.

Speaker 5 (05:07):
He knocks on the door of room three zero four.

Speaker 2 (05:09):
The guest, a mister Puliafido, opens it, but he keeps
the door closed behind it.

Speaker 1 (05:17):
He looked like he was in his sixties. He was
very disheveled. He just looked like he had had a
rough night. I don't know if he was a partying
all night or whatnot. The first thing he asks me
is if I have his room key, And now I'm
confused because I don't know what he's talking about. He
made no mention of the girl. He says, they said

that you could change my room for me since I
can't stay in this room, and I'm like, okay, awesome,
that sounds like an easy fix to the situation. I
can move him to a new room, and as i'm
moving him, I'll have an opportunity to see the young
lady in the room and to ascertain if we need
to get paramedics involved. As I'm leaving to go get

him a room key, I'm stopped again by the security agent.
He advises me that the day prior, housekeeping had found
what they believed to be methamphetamine in the guest room,
and that the manager had said that they were not
going to extend his stay. But I'm like, you just

told me that there's an unconscious woman in the room
and I need to get eyes on her. So if
I have to allow him to stay another night and
do the room move as a method of getting eyes
on the girl, That's what I'm gonna do.

Speaker 2 (06:44):
Devon finds the guests another room, so now he has
access to room three h four. He gets his key
card and opens the door. It's not what he expected.

Speaker 5 (06:55):
It's worse. Room three oh four. It's a disaster.

Speaker 1 (07:09):
It looks like a crime scene. There's obvious drug activity
that has taken place. I'm seeing little nitrous oxide canisters
and balloons strewn around the floor. There are scorch marks
on the linens from where it was obviously burned, and
there was an empty box, but it had the outline

of abutane torch.

Speaker 5 (07:34):
Devon knows what this means.

Speaker 2 (07:37):
Someone's been doing drugs in this room, smoking heroin, cocaine
or meth.

Speaker 1 (07:43):
Unfortunately, I was very familiar with the paraphernalia that was
around the room. I recognized what that box was for
because my mother had been addicted to crack cocaine for many,
many years.

Speaker 5 (07:58):
And then he sees them.

Speaker 1 (08:01):
In the wheelchair was this very young lady that was
clearly too young to be with this gentleman. She was
literally like a rag doll in the chair, all her
limbs just completely just dead weight, wearing nothing but one
of the hotel robes. But the thing that really made

my skin crawl was attached to the television, was like
a tripod that would hold like a recording device or
cell phone or whatnot. I could look at that situation
and see exactly for what it was. I saw every
father's worst nightmare, but I had to remain professional. I'm

pushing the wheelchair of the young lady down the hallway.
I'm speaking to her, ma'am, ma'am, are you okay? It's
at that time that I advice mister Puliafedo that it's
my intention to call the paramedics.

Speaker 2 (09:05):
But despite the woman's condition, this older man, mister Puliofido,
is strangely blasse. He says, there's no need for paramedics.

Speaker 1 (09:13):
He tried to talk me out of it. He says, well,
she's just had too much to drink. I'm going to
be keeping an eye on her. I'm a doctor, and
I didn't believe that he was a doctor. As far
as I could throw him. In my mind, there's no
way this guy's a doctor.

Speaker 2 (09:32):
Although it goes against all his years following hotel protocol
to assure the guests every need is met, to never
make a scene, to handle awkward situations with total discretion.
Devon ignores Polyiffido and he calls the paramedics himself.

Speaker 5 (09:48):
The dispatcher picks up Farmed.

Speaker 4 (09:51):
I am calling from the hotel Constence in Pasadena nine
two eight East, Colorado. And what room is the pion
in three twelve? A male or female female?

Speaker 1 (10:02):
How old does she uh?

Speaker 4 (10:04):
I'd say maybe mid twenties. She's passed out?

Speaker 1 (10:08):
Unresponse, is she breathing? Yes?

Speaker 4 (10:11):
Are you able to transfer me to that room or.

Speaker 2 (10:16):
Devon transfers the nine to one one call and pull
ther Fido.

Speaker 4 (10:19):
Answers, hi's a fire department. You say you call for
one one, not me.

Speaker 1 (10:26):
Basically, my girlfriend here ahead.

Speaker 6 (10:28):
A bunch of drinks.

Speaker 1 (10:29):
Is she wake now?

Speaker 2 (10:31):
No, This is a guy who claims he's a doctor,
whose girlfriend, which is what he calls her, is unconscious,
whose room looks like a crime scene.

Speaker 1 (10:40):
We're going to be there early to check her out.

Speaker 3 (10:41):
Okay, okay, fine, fine, fine, thank you.

Speaker 4 (10:45):
Do you know how much she drinks a bunch? Did
take anythingales with it or just the alcohol?

Speaker 1 (10:50):
I think just the.

Speaker 5 (10:51):
Alcohol, just the alcohol. That's a lie.

Speaker 2 (10:57):
Devon stays on the third floor to make sure the
situations under control.

Speaker 1 (11:02):
I observed the paramedics bringing the young lady out of
the room on a gurney. They were taking her into
the service elevator. They were speaking to her the same way,
trying to get some response from her. They were calling
her by name, and this is the first time that
I learned that her name was Sarah, which gave me

chills because my daughter's name is Sarah.

Speaker 2 (11:30):
While Sarah is being wheeled away, Devon brings the chief
paramedic into the room.

Speaker 1 (11:35):
The chief came with me. We go into the room
and he surveys the room. Our security had opened the
safe and inside the safe were the drugs white crystally
substance that was in the little plastic ziplock back which
appeared to be methamphetamine. He took one look at the room.

He's like, lock this room and don't let anyone come
in here or touch anything until the police get here.

Speaker 2 (12:05):
It will be hard for the police to miss the drugs,
but Devon wants to make sure they follow up on
what he feels is the most disturbing detail.

Speaker 1 (12:14):
The tripod was still on the television. I advised our
general manager once he came onto the scene, I said,
when the police get here, make sure they get his
phone because I'm positive there's some nasty stuff on there.

Speaker 2 (12:34):
Now that the general manager has shown up, Devon can
finally block out.

Speaker 1 (12:38):
I was ready to go at that point, but I
was looking forward to coming on Monday to find out
what happened. Once the police arrived, I had supreme confidence
in the system that this guy would get what was
coming to him.

Speaker 2 (12:57):
The young woman, Sarah, still unconscious, is taken to hospital.
Devon heads down to gather his things. It's business as
usual in the lobby, the sirens fading into the distance.
You never know anything out of the ordinary had happened upstairs.

But any confidence Davon feels in the system, as he
calls it, it turns out that's badly misplaced. Three days later,
on Monday, March seventh, Devon is anxious to get back
to work. He's been wondering all weekend about what happened

at the hotel after he left.

Speaker 1 (13:45):
I arrived one Monday, and the only other leader that
is there when I arrive is the director of finance.
He and I were pretty close. We happened to meet
in front of the coffee station and and I'm really
excited to hear what happened to this guy Once the
police arrived. He goes, the police didn't do anything. I'm like,

what do you mean, didn't do anything?

Speaker 2 (14:10):
Despite a young woman in severe distress, a room littered
with illicit drugs, a camera with recordings of whatever had
happened in that room. Devon's colleague tells him the guests
in three or four had just walked away, and this
makes no sense to Devon.

Speaker 1 (14:26):
I'm like, the drugs were in the room, they see
the drugs, because yeah, they saw the drugs, but they
said that drug abuse is not a crime, it's a disease.
And when I heard him say that, my blood just
boiled because you have to realize, at this time, it
seemed like unarmed African American men were being shot weekly

by the police. I knew that if I was found
in a room with an unconscious white girl and drugs
were in the room, the police aren't going to be
that compassionate with me. He goes, dev I don't know,
it's like the police knew. It's like they knew who
he was before they got here.

Speaker 5 (15:13):
They knew who he was. What exactly does that mean?

Speaker 1 (15:16):
And he says, well, he really is a doctor. And
I'm like, there's no way that that guy is a doctor.
I'm like, how do you know, he goes because we
googled him. He's the dean of medicine for USC.

Speaker 2 (15:32):
Doctor Carmen Puliaffido Is It's true, the dean of the
University of Southern California's Kech School of Medicine. He's a
world renowned ophthalmologist and his salary is one point one
million dollars a year.

Speaker 7 (15:49):
Doctor Puliafido is exciting, dynamic, brilliant and phenomenal.

Speaker 1 (15:54):
So we thank USC for loaning him to us.

Speaker 8 (15:57):
Doctor Puliafido, thank you everyone, and welcome to the Kech
School of Medicine. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of
blindness in the industrialized world.

Speaker 2 (16:08):
That's Pulyifido making a presentation at a conference of fellow doctors.
Pulyifido co invented a breakthrough technology to treat eye diseases.
He founded Harvard's Laser Research Lab, He launched the New
England Eye Center, and he had run the University of
Miami's I Institute, the number one ophthalmology school in the
country according to the US News and World Report. And that

makes Bulyiarfido a very valuable guy.

Speaker 7 (16:34):
When people around the world think of the intellectual giants
of the twenty first century, they will be thinking of
the University of Southern California. For the past two centuries
we have lived in the age of the Atlantic. As
our world today is shifting to a Pacific century. USC

is better positioned than anyone else to lead this change.

Speaker 2 (17:05):
That's Max Deakias, then the president of the University of
Southern California. He's given a commencement speech to a class
of bright eyed graduates. Nikias landed in the top job
at USC in twenty ten, and he was a man
on a mission.

Speaker 6 (17:20):
We are betting the future of the university as a
research university on the medical and biological sciences. So it's
by far one of our very, very top.

Speaker 2 (17:31):
Priorities, as he says on the packed red carpet at
a fundraising gala. Nikias was determined to make USC one
of the top schools in the country, and he had
his work cut out for him. For years, US had
a reputation as the kind of place rich parents send
kids who couldn't get into UCLA. USC didn't have a

big endowment like Stanford up the coast, so they were
constantly fundraising. Big money is what brings in big name
faculty who then get big grants for high end research.
That's what gets you up in the rankings at US
News and World Report, and that is what Max Takias
was determined to do. Some am like Carmen Puliaffido, who'd
taken Miami to number one. He was just the kind

of talent Nikias needed at the Keech School of medicine.
We are committed to training the physician leaders of tomorrow.
We are grateful for our many supporters who've made it
possible for us to recruit the best and the brightest

to our medical school. In the School of Medicine, and
that slick US admissions video, Pulliafido is looking sharp in
a jacket and tie. A wall of medical journals behind him.
Tikias has managed to poach him from the University of Miami.
When Puliafido arrived at USC, the school was twenty five

spots behind UCLA, it's crosstown rival, But the new Dean
of Medicine got right to work.

Speaker 5 (19:05):
Pull the Afido lured.

Speaker 2 (19:06):
Seventy professors to kick from other institutions, and with those
professors came millions of dollars in research funding. By the
time pullia Fido got on that nine to one one
call at the Hotel Constance, he claimed he brought in
over a billion dollars a new funding for the medical school.
Devon and his colleagues at the hotel don't know any

of this, but that quick Google search makes it clear
that this man is a big deal at USC. But
impressive credentials and famous names don't typically help in situations
like this, where there's an unconscious young woman, drugs.

Speaker 5 (19:44):
And a camera.

Speaker 2 (19:46):
Devon wants to have faith in the quote unquote system,
but days go by, weeks and there's no news of
an arrest or any other information on what happened to Sarah.

Speaker 5 (19:56):
The young woman.

Speaker 1 (20:00):
Was boiling on so many levels. I saw my mom
do things that she would never have done before she
became addicted to crack, and she was like a completely
different person after that. So I knew that there was
no way that this young lady would want anything to
do with this man, if not for the drugs and

the duality of the injustice where this guy could do
something so egregious and have no repercussions whatsoever.

Speaker 2 (20:34):
He agonizes over what to do, and he doesn't feel
the police or the answer.

Speaker 1 (20:39):
My trust in the Pasadena Police Department at that time
was not very high. They had every opportunity to do
the right thing, and they didn't.

Speaker 2 (20:49):
Given the unwritten rules of the hotel trade, Devon can't
afford to come forward on his own.

Speaker 1 (20:55):
My wife was really concerned after the incident about meep
getting too involved. She really didn't want me to do
anything to jeopardize our livelihood.

Speaker 2 (21:14):
Maybe it's the memory of his mother's desperation, or the
shamelessness of the man in room three h four, or
the fact that the young woman's name is Sarah like
his daughter. Devon knows he needs to say something, but
he has to find a way to keep his name
out of it so he can hopefully keep his job.

Speaker 5 (21:34):
So how do you do that?

Speaker 2 (21:36):
He submits an anonymous complaint to the Pasadena City Attorney.

Speaker 1 (21:41):
Wrote up a little email, and basically told them that
there was an incident that took place on March fourth
at the hotel constance, that the police arrived but didn't
really do anything. I lied and said the press was
already aware of the incident and that I wouldn't want
to see Pasadena Police Department portrayed in a bad light

because they didn't do the right thing. I was pretty
satisfied that was an appropriate course of action, but the
more I thought about it, I just wasn't convinced that
it was enough.

Speaker 5 (22:18):
It wasn't.

Speaker 2 (22:19):
There's no response to his complaint, no news of a
dean at usc wrapped up in a scandal, so he
decides to take it to the press. The only times
is well known for its hard hitting investigative journalism. It
had recently published a major investigation into big Pharma in
the OxyContin crisis. Well, when Devin calls The Times, the

switchboard at the paper tells him he can leave a
message on the tip line.

Speaker 1 (22:48):
They say, we have a recording that we send our
tips to, and I'm like, no, I don't want to
leave a recording because then I'd have to leave my
name and number and have someone call me back.

Speaker 2 (22:59):
Still doesn't give up, He wonders if it's possible that
USC itself is in the dark.

Speaker 1 (23:05):
I love USC. I had planned to transfer there to
go to the film School, but after I got married,
my priority was keeping a chicken in the pot. I
had very fond feelings for USC, and this was another
reason why I wanted to give them the opportunity to
do the right thing, because I knew the impact that

this scandal would have on the college.

Speaker 2 (23:30):
So he places a call to the office of the President,
Max to Kias, but he has to be careful.

Speaker 1 (23:37):
I went outside because I clearly didn't want to make
the call from the hotel. I walked out on Mentor Avenue,
walked about a block or so down the street.

Speaker 9 (23:54):
Thank you for calling.

Speaker 4 (23:55):
Please remain on the line and we'll be.

Speaker 3 (23:57):
Right with you.

Speaker 1 (24:00):
And the first person I got, you know, obviously, I
told them that I need to speak to the president.
She says, yeah, he doesn't take calls, but asking me
what it was regarding, and I advised her quickly that
your dean of medicine was involved in the incident with
an unconscious female that was in his room, and there

are also drugs found in the room, and that the
press was aware, and that they might want to take
action before the story was made public.

Speaker 2 (24:31):
When I imagine how this call went, I hear the
line go very quiet.

Speaker 1 (24:35):
She put me on hold, and someone else came to
the phone and I basically explained the same thing to her,
and she said that they would need something in writing,
and advised hers, I'm not going to put anything in
writing because I wanted to remain anonymous. But everything that
I'm telling you is verifiable. I said, the police were

called to the hotel, addicks were called to the hotel. Now,
she just said that she would need me to give
her something in writing.

Speaker 5 (25:06):
And Devon just can't do that. This is as far
as he can go.

Speaker 1 (25:10):
At this point. I've done everything that I feel comfortable doing.
I was constantly googling Carmen poopet Fido to see if
there was anything popping up, like he resigns or he's
fired or anything like that, and there was no new
information coming up. And he was still on the website

as the dean of medicine. So it was at that
point and I was like, Okay, well, you know, clearly
he's still being protected.

Speaker 2 (25:48):
It's been about a month since the incident. At the
hotel Constance.

Speaker 1 (25:52):
Our neighbor was having a party. The uncle of my
neighbor was there, and this the first time I'm meeting him.

Speaker 5 (26:02):
The neighbor's uncle is named Ricardo der Antonia.

Speaker 10 (26:05):
I've been the La Times since nineteen eighty nine and
I've been doing all kinds of photojournalism events and lose.

Speaker 2 (26:15):
The month before, Riccardo had been covering the funeral motorcade
for Nancy Reagan when he was confronted by three Semi
Valley police officers. Someone had reported it he looked suspicious
while he was transmitting photos from his car. According to Riccardo,
the cops swarmed him, forced him to the ground, and handcuffed.

Speaker 1 (26:33):
Him his arm was in a sling and he was
talking about how he got ruffed up by LAPD while
he was working, and he was very upset about it.
And he was like, wait till my work gets a
hold of these guys. You know, they're not going to
know what hit him. And out of curiosity, I said, well,
who do you work for? And he says the La Times.

I'm like, oh my god, you know I've been trying
to get a hold of someone from the La Times.

Speaker 10 (26:59):
He started talking about this incident that you witnessed. It
started telling me that there was a cover up the cops,
game and fire department and they all kind of just
sweeping everything under the rug drugs and officials cover up.

Speaker 5 (27:18):
You couldn't believe it.

Speaker 1 (27:20):
I laid it out for him and he's like, yeah,
that's a story. He's like, I can get the tip
to the right person. He goes it, said okay that
you know, I give him your contact information. Now it's reluctant,
but I said, okay, yes, but let them know that
I want to be completely anonymous. I don't want to
go on record because I could lose my job and

I can't have that. And he said, no problem, and
a short time after that, I get a call from Paul.

Speaker 5 (27:55):

Speaker 2 (27:56):
My name's Paul Pringle. I'm an investigative reporter for the
La Time Times. When I made that call to Devon
Khan in April of twenty sixteen, I thought I'd be
writing a quick hitch story about a drug overdose. I
had no idea it would take me much deeper into
the darkest corners of money and influence at two of
the most powerful institutions in LA Coming up this season

Onfallen Angels.

Speaker 5 (28:27):
When people fall in line, they fall in live.

Speaker 9 (28:29):
It's a cover up by people that just do not care,
didn't matter to them at all.

Speaker 3 (28:35):
We were investigating USC, we were investigating Puliathido. Only a
month or two after the investigation began, I received some
strange visitors at my house.

Speaker 9 (28:46):
Hey, how did you find this out?

Speaker 3 (28:48):
How did you wink us together?

Speaker 9 (28:49):
Do you understand that people are choosing you of sexually
assaulting young women for decades?

Speaker 3 (28:56):
There were actually several instances that looking back, I realized, Oh,
everyone knew.

Speaker 1 (29:02):
She was on the balcony and screaming about all the
method better means in the grip.

Speaker 3 (29:06):
It's hard enough when a member of your family is
a drug addict, but add to that unlimited access to money.
How do you get them out of that situation. I
had to participate in this effort to get this story
published otherwise, which is betray my core values.

Speaker 2 (29:21):
Why of a journalists in the first place.

Speaker 9 (29:23):
We're always going to have predators, but it's the good
people who stand by and do nothing that allow them
to flourish.

Speaker 5 (29:28):
That's coming up this season on Fallen Angels.

Speaker 2 (29:35):
Fallen Angels, The Story of California Corruption is a production
of iHeart Podcasts in partnership with Best Case Studios. I'm
Paul Pringle. This show is based on my book Bad City,
Peril and Power in the City of Angels. Fallen Angels
was written by Isabel Evans, Adam Pinks, and Brent Katz.
Isabel Evans is our producer. Brent Katz is co producer.

Associate producers are Hannah Leibowitz, Lockhart and Onfajo lock Executive
producers are Me, Paul Pringle, Joe Piccarello, and Adam Pinkus
for Best Case Studios. Original music is by James Newberry.
This episode was edited by Daniel Turek with assistants from
Max Michael Miller, additional editings, sound design and additional music

by Dean White, Harriet Ryan, Matt Hamilton, Sarah Parvini and
Adam Olmaik are consulting producers. Our iHeart team is Ali
Perry and Carl Ketel. Follow and rate Fallen Angels wherever
you get your podcasts
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