A Republican Missouri state lawmaker has been indicted on federal fraud charges after she allegedly sold nearly $200,000 worth of fake stem-cell treatments she claimed could cure various illnesses, including COVID-19, at her medical clinics.
The 20-count grand jury indictment unsealed Monday also accuses 63-year-old Rep. Tricia Derges, a Republican from Nixa, of illegally providing prescription drugs to clients and making false statements to federal agents investigating the case.
Derges was released on her own recognizance after making an initial court appearance during which she pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
State Rep. Tricia Derges, 63, a Republican from Nixa, Missouri, has been indicted on 20 counts of fraud in a stem cell treatment scheme, illegally providing prescriptions and lying to the FBI
Derges listens to a patient’s chest at the Lift Up Springfield medical clinic in 2018. The newly elected state lawmaker is a not a doctor but is licensed as an assistant physician
Her defense attorney, Stacie Bilyeu, said that after the U.S. attorney’s office held a news conference to announce the indictment, Derges’ social media was flooded with comments by people who assumed by what they heard that she was guilty, which she called unfortunate.
‘These are just allegations, these are just charges,’ Bilyeu said. ‘Dr. Derges hasn’t been convicted of a thing and she is presumed innocent until, and if, she is — and that simply hasn’t happened yet.’
Derges took to Facebook on Monday and sounded a defiant note, writing in a post in part: ‘Lies and twisted words mean nothing. Truth and righteousness mean everything. I can stand before God and know that He will smile at me.’
Prosecutors say Derges administered amniotic fluid, which she falsely claimed contained stem cells, as a treatment to patients who suffered from various diseases, including erectile dysfunction, Lyme disease and urinary incontinence.
Derges, who was elected in November 2020 and sworn into office last month, also allegedly wrote in an April Facebook post: ‘This amazing treatment stands to provide a potential cure for COVID-19 patients that is safe and natural,’ according to the indictment.
She made similar claims around that time during an interview on OzarksFirst, which raised suspicions in the medical community and ultimately sparked a federal investigation.
U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison speaks at a news conference on Monday regarding the charges filed against Derges, who he claimed abused ‘her privileged positions to enrich herself’
A National Institutes of Health panel recommends against stem cells’ use for COVID-19 outside of clinical trials.
US Attorney Tim Garrison said in a news release that Derges abused ‘her privileged position to enrich herself’ through deception.
‘The indictment alleges she lied to her patients and she lied to federal agents,’ Garrison said. ‘As an elected official and a health care provider, she deserves to be held to a high standard. This grand jury indictment exposes her deception and holds her accountable for her actions.’
Derges is not a physician but is licensed as an assistant physician, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. She operates three Ozark Valley Medical Clinic sites in Springfield, Ozark and Branson.
‘Derges vowed to do no harm as a health care professional and was elected to serve the people, not deceive them,’ said Timothy Langan, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Kansas City. ‘She used her position for personal gain and damaged the public’s trust.’
Federal investigators launched a probe into Derges after she made a series of claims on social media and in interviews, arguing that amniotic fluid with stem cells could cure COVID-19
Derges operates three Ozark Valley Medical Clinics that offer, among other things, ‘regenerative’ medical services
The federal indictment charges Derges with eight counts of wire fraud related to five specific victims who were among those who lost a total of $190,000 in the bogus stem-cell treatment fraud scheme, which lasted from December 2018 to May 2020.
During this time, Derges allegedly obtained amniotic fluid, which she marketed under the name Regenerative Biologics, from the University of Utah.
The indictment cites an August 2019 seminar in which Derges told her audience that the amniotic fluid she used in her stem cell practice was a ‘stem cell shot’ and that it contained ‘mesenchymal stem cells.’
In fact, however, the amniotic fluid Derges administered to her patients did not contain mesenchymal stem cells, or any other stem cells, according to prosecutors.
‘Derges administered amniotic fluid, which she falsely claimed contained stem cells, to patients who suffered from, among other things, tissue damage, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Lyme disease, erectile dysfunction, and urinary incontinence,’ the indictment states.
The University of Utah sold its amniotic fluid to Derges for anywhere between $244 and $438, and she charged her patients $950 to $1,450. In total, Derges’s patients were said to have paid her approximately $191,815 for amniotic fluid that did not contain stem cells.
Derges, who is 2018 received a Humanitarian of the Year award from a local organization, also faces 10 counts of illegally distributing Oxycodone and Adderall over the internet without valid prescriptions.
Derges, who was named Humanitarian of the Year in 2018, is also suspected of illegally writing prescriptions for Oxycodone and Adderall. She pleaded not guilty to call charges
The indictment alleges that Derges, without conducting in-person medical evaluations of the patients, wrote electronic prescriptions for the drugs and sent them to pharmacies over the internet.
The married mom and grandmother is also accused to lying to FBI agents that the amniotic fluid she used in her practice contained stem sells, and denying using the fluid to treat urinary incontinence.
Derges obtained her medical degree from the Caribbean Medical University of Curacao in May 2014 but was not accepted into a post-graduate residency program. She was licensed as an assistant physician by the state of Missouri in 2017.