Missouri Republican legislator indicted for fraud, illegal prescriptions

State Rep. Tricia Derges, elected in 2020, operates medical clinics in Christian and Greene counties

Tim Garrison, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced on Feb. 1, 2021, that a Republican lawmaker from Nixa was indicted for for a stem cell scheme and illegally distributing prescription drugs (photo courtesy of the U.S. Attorney's Office).

A freshman lawmaker from southwest Missouri was charged Monday in a 20-count federal indictment alleging she sold fake stem-cell treatments and illegally prescribed narcotics at her medical practice in Springfield.

State Rep. Tricia Derges, R-Nixa, appeared Monday before Magistrate Judge David P. Rush, who released her without bail as she awaits a trial date. The charges are detailed in an indictment unsealed Monday afternoon.

Tim Garrison, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, detailed the charges in a Springfield new conference. Derges caught the attention of investigators when she did television interviews claiming she was working with the University of Utah on an FDA-approved research project to determine if stem cells were effective against COVID-19, Garrison said.

“The investigation determined that her claims regarding her ability to treat COVID19 were part of a broader pattern of misleading and deceiving patients and potential patients about treating them with stem cells when actually she was treating them with acellular amniotic fluids,” Garrison said.

Rep. Tricia Derges, R-Nixa

Derges obtained the sterile fluid, which contained no stem cells, from the University of Utah at a cost of $250 per milliliter, Garrison said. She treated patients, telling them it contained stem cells, for $950 to $1,450 per milliliter.

The investigation identified eight patients who had paid Derges from $1,905 to $6,500 for stem cell treatments and $191,815 in total for such treatments, Garrison said.

The indictment’s charges for illegal prescriptions, 10 counts, involve one count of prescribing oxycodone, better known by its brand name Oxycontin, and nine counts of prescribing adderall, an amphetamine.

The indictment alleges that Derges, who had up to three assistant physicians working in her Ozark Valley Medical clinics, did not have authority to submit the prescriptions because she did not personally examine the patients before transmitting them to pharmacies.

The final two charges, making false statements to investigators, allege that Derges told FBI agents on May 5, 2020, that her amniotic fluid did contain stem cells and she denied treating a patient for urinary incontinence with the amniotic fluid.

Garrison noted that under the federal constitution, no one is required to speak to investigators. But once a person agrees to be questioned, he said, they are obligated to be truthful.

“Intentionally making relevant statements to federal investigators that you know to be false is a crime,” Garrison said.

Derges’ attorney, Stacie Bilyeu of Springfield, said she was limited in what she could say about the indictment. She said Derges pleaded not guilty in her court appearance.

“These charges are mere allegations, that’s it,” Bilyeu said. “Dr. Derges is presumed innocent if and until proven guilty.”

Derges was elected to a two-year term representing Christian County in the Missouri House in November. She is licensed in the state as an assistant physician.

Derges received her medical training at the Caribbean Medical University in the Netherland Antilles. It is not accredited for training physicians by any United States organization and Derges was unable to find a place for post-graduate residency.

Under Missouri law, Garrison noted, a medical graduate who does not go through a residency program can be licensed as an assistant physician if they pass certain tests. To practice, the assistant physician must work under the supervision of a fully licensed physician.

Derges could not be reached on the telephone number she provided to the Missouri Ethics Commission during her campaign. 

In several posts on her personal Facebook page over the past three days, Derges urged her friends to remain loyal and stating she is innocent.

“I am here, holding my head up because that’s what you do when you have done NOTHING,” Derges wrote in a post published Monday afternoon after she appeared in court. “Never before have I seen anything like this.  This is what comes after years of doing nothing but help people.”

In another post, published online Sunday, Derges attributed her troubles to enemies out to stop her from helping people.

“One thing I was not taught is that there are those that don’t care what you do, who you help, their entire focus is to literally stop and destroy so that you are unable to do anything,” Derges wrote. “They do it with lies and deceit- fear and intimidation.”

The 18 counts dealing with fraud or illegally prescribing drugs carry a maximum prison term of 20 years for each count. The two counts of lying to federal investigators carry a maximum prison term of five years each.

Federal prosecutors are also seeking to recover the money Derges obtained for her treatments if she is convicted in order to provide restitution, Garrison said.

“This defendant abused her privileged position to enrich herself through deception,” Garrison said in a news release about the indictment. “The indictment alleges she lied to her patients and she lied to federal agents. 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.”

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