After her conviction in federal court last week, Republican state representative and disgraced doctor Patricia Derges remains free until her sentencing hearing, which is at least four months away.
Last week, a Greene County jury convicted Derges on 22 counts, including wire fraud, illegal distribution of controlled substances and making false statements to investigators. They also voted to allow law enforcement to take back nearly $300,000 in federal pandemic aid money that Derges received from Greene County.
Following the conviction, it remains unclear what consequences the Nixa Republican will face. At the end of the trial, Judge Brian Wimes said her sentencing hearing would be at least four months away.
According to federal prosecutors, Derges is subject to a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison without parole on each of the 10 wire fraud counts and on each of the 10 drug distribution counts, and a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole on each of the two false statements counts.
But Derges will not face the maximum sentence for each of these counts and the courts gives great discretion to Judge Brian Wimes on the length, or lack thereof, of her sentence.
"The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors."
Veteran Springfield-based defense attorney Tom Carver spoke with the News-Leader about the sentencing process.
First, a probation officer will conduct a pre-sentence investigation that "maximizes the offense level" with many enhancements based on the particular circumstances of a given defendant.
After the probation officer's factual determination, both prosecutors and defense lawyers have the opportunity to object, but discretion is ultimately in the hands of the judge of the case.
As long as there are no mandatory minimums, "whether a judge departs downwards or grants a variance from the guidelines is pretty much within the control of the judge," Carver said.
That's why it can be so difficult to predict how much or little jail time a defendant will receive in a given case.
But Carver said in cases that involve fraud, one of the primary determining factors is the amount of money defrauded. In Derges' case, that includes the $296,000 she defrauded from Greene County, the $503,350 she attempted to defraud from the county, and the nearly $200,000 she defrauded her patients through her fraudulent "stem cell" treatments.
Another primary factor in determining a sentence is the defendant's "acceptance of responsibly." Most often this is considered when a defendants pleads guilty, either by accepting a plea deal or not. But that opportunity "pretty much went out the window" when Derges took her case to trial, Carver said.
"It's highly unlikely that a person who took the matter to trial would get credit for acceptance of responsibility," he told the News-Leader.
Before the trial, Derges rejected four plea deals offered to her by prosecutors, which would have dropped all but two of the wire fraud charges.
Although Derges could have made the situation worse if she had testified, Carver added.
"If a defendant testifies and gives testimony that is substantially different than the government's theory of the case and the defendant ends up being convicted, then they can get an upward adjustment for obstruction of justice," he said. The Nixa Republican declined to testify in her own defense, thereby escaping that consideration.
With all these factors, Carver said it would be very difficult to predict Derges' sentence before the hearing in which it is decided.
"At this stage of the game, it would not be possible to make an accurate prediction of (her) sentencing."
While waiting for sentencing in the forthcoming four months, Derges does face several restrictions handed down by Judge Wimes.
She was required to take immediate steps to forfeit all her medical licenses. She is prevented from calling herself a doctor, being in a healthcare facility except as a patient, and teaching or speaking publicly about stem cells.
Derges is also forbidden by Missouri law from running for re-election in her Nixa statehouse seat. She had already been forbidden from running as a Republican by the state GOP but her lawyer previously hinted at a possible write-in campaign after the trial.
Derges announced her resignation from office Saturday evening.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Will ex-Missouri Rep. Tricia Derges face jail time after conviction?