The trial of a southwest Missouri state lawmaker charged with fraud will begin this week as the process to select members of the jury got underway Monday morning in Springfield.
Rep. Tricia Derges, a Republican from Nixa, is facing 23 charges from the federal government alleging she committed wire fraud, wrote illegal prescriptions, lied to investigators and fraudulently obtained pandemic aid money in her capacity as founder of the medical clinics in the region.
Derges and her attorney, Al Watkins, have maintained her innocence and have rejected four prior plea deals.
The trial is set to run for an estimated two weeks and will include testimony from Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon, former Nixa Rep. Lynn Morris, Republican statehouse candidate AJ Exner, and other witnesses from throughout Missouri and at least eight other states. U.S. District Judge Brian C. Wimes is overseeing the trial.
A pool of 70 potential jurors from throughout southwest Missouri went through the selection process Monday at the federal courthouse in Springfield, as the court sought to determine members who may hold biases or have significant prior knowledge about the case. At least 15 potential members said they were aware of Derges' case, primarily through news coverage dating back to her initial indictment last year.
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One juror said she knew of Derges from when she ran for the Missouri House, winning a seat representing Christian County in 2020. Another said they had "heard everything from the very beginning" about her case. One potential member was dismissed early on due to a medical condition, and another left the courtroom after private conversations with both parties and Wimes.
The court went into recess Monday afternoon to finalize the members of the jury. Immediately prior to that recess, an unprompted comment from a person in the room about "getting out" of jury duty spurred a brief speech from Wimes on the importance of the trial and process.
"At some point this court has to make a stand on our judicial process," he told the court, again explaining why he was asking numerous questions of the potential jurors. "Trust me, it's for a reason. For both sides."
Opening arguments are set to begin tomorrow morning.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Derges asked for prayers as she enters "the trial of my life."
"I pray that my case will establish a foundation and bring attention to the three critical areas I have worked so hard on in order to help hundreds of thousands of people," she wrote. "If it does, then the hell I have been forced to endure for two years will have been worth it."
A few protesters gathered outside the courthouse Monday morning, holding signs in support of Derges and saying she was innocent.
Derges, who garnered acclaim prior to her indictment for her clinic's services to low-income residents and veterans in southwest Missouri, has been accused of administering amniotic fluid injections to patients that she claimed contained stem cells. She is also alleged to have written illegal prescriptions and of fraudulently applying for and obtaining nearly $300,000 in CARES Act aid money from Greene County, where Springfield is located.
She has been kicked out of the House Republican caucus in Jefferson City and was blocked for filing for re-election under the party banner but has not resigned her seat. Several candidates are running for the district.
Derges and her medical clinic in Ozark were the subject of a new medical malpractice lawsuit filed by a former patient last month. Earlier this year, she had her narcotics license put on probation by a state board and admitted to buying and prescribing drugs illegally in an agreement reached with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Jury selection underway for Nixa lawmaker Tricia Derges' federal trial