Missouri lawmaker Tricia Derges found guilty of wire fraud, illegal prescriptions, lying to feds

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Tricia Derges leaves the Federal Courthouse with her attorneys after being found guilty of 22 counts, including wire fraud, illegal distribution of controlled substances and making false statements to investigators.
Tricia Derges leaves the Federal Courthouse with her attorneys after being found guilty of 22 counts, including wire fraud, illegal distribution of controlled substances and making false statements to investigators.

Tricia Derges, a state lawmaker and founder of several medical clinics throughout southwest Missouri, was found guilty on Monday on all charges brought against her by federal prosecutors.

A 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.

The ruling marks the end of a criminal trial in Springfield that lasted two weeks and a federal investigation dating back to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This is an elected official who stole money from the public, a purported humanitarian who cheated and lied to her patients, and a medical professional who illegally distributed drugs," said U.S. Attorney Teresa Moore in a statement.

Members of the prosecution team speak at a news conference after Patricia “Tricia” Ashton Derges, 64, of Nixa, Mo., was found guilty of 10 counts of wire fraud, 10 counts of distributing drugs over the internet without a valid prescription, and two counts of making false statements to a federal law enforcement agent.
Members of the prosecution team speak at a news conference after Patricia “Tricia” Ashton Derges, 64, of Nixa, Mo., was found guilty of 10 counts of wire fraud, 10 counts of distributing drugs over the internet without a valid prescription, and two counts of making false statements to a federal law enforcement agent.

"She violated her position of trust to selfishly enrich herself at the expense of others. But a jury of her peers, in a unanimous verdict, saw through her smokescreen of excuses and ridiculous claims, and now she will be held accountable for her criminal behavior."

Testimony from federal and local officials, associates of Derges and medical experts outlined an expansive case from prosecutors, in which they focused on discrepancies within her for-profit and nonprofit clinics' finances, her consistent advertising for treatments that she claimed contained stem cells and her application for Greene County's pandemic aid money.

Among those who appeared during the trial were Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon and former state lawmaker and Christian County Commissioner Lynn Morris. Derges declined to testify herself.

After the verdict was read, federal prosecutors asked the judge to revoke Derges' bond on the grounds she is a flight risk and a danger to the community.

Prosecutor Randall Eggert cited Derges' "extensive ties to the Caribbean," where she went to medical school.

Supervisory Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall Eggert speaks at a news conference after Patricia “Tricia” Ashton Derges, 64, of Nixa, was found guilty of 10 counts of wire fraud, 10 counts of distributing drugs over the internet without a valid prescription, and two counts of making false statements to a federal law enforcement agent.
Supervisory Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall Eggert speaks at a news conference after Patricia “Tricia” Ashton Derges, 64, of Nixa, was found guilty of 10 counts of wire fraud, 10 counts of distributing drugs over the internet without a valid prescription, and two counts of making false statements to a federal law enforcement agent.

Judge Brian Wimes allowed Derges to remain out on bond before sentencing, but imposed conditions on her release — including the immediate forfeiture of all medical licenses and her passport. He also forbid Derges from calling herself a doctor, being in a healthcare facility except as a patient, and teaching or speaking publicly about stem cells.

Wimes also indicated a sentencing hearing would not take place for at least four months.

During closing arguments Monday, prosecutor Shannon Kempf went through each charge and replayed audio of Derges that had been played many times over the two week trial. The audio allegedly shows Derges conflating her acellular amniotic fluid injection with an injection of stem cells.

"It is never acceptable to lie to patients about what you're putting in their body," Kempf told jurors.

Her defense attorney, Al Watkins, maintained her innocence while seeking to undermine the government's case as an attack on a community leader seeking to help underserved populations through her nonprofit, Lift Up Springfield. He described her as "naïve but relentless" during arguments. She rejected several plea deals.

Tricia Derges attorney Al Watkins walks to the Federal Courthouse on Thursday, June 23, 2022.
Tricia Derges attorney Al Watkins walks to the Federal Courthouse on Thursday, June 23, 2022.

In his closing arguments, an indignant Watkins framed his argument around "intent," or the lack thereof in his client. He described her use of "stem cell shot" as "shorthand" for amniotic fluid — rather than a purposeful misrepresentation.

"You can't have a scheme to help people," Watkins told the jury while Derges' family visibly prayed in the courtroom audience.

In his rebuttal to Watkins' closing remarks, Eggert said the defense attorney was merely telling jurors to "let her go because she does good in the community."

"She uses her patina of goodness to lie," Eggert said.

Derges was indicted by a federal grand jury in February 2021 on charges of felony wire fraud, illegal distribution of controlled substances and making false statements. A month later, officials revealed more charges, alleging that she defrauded the county to receive CARES Act money for COVID testing her clinic had already been reimbursed for.

As the trial was repeatedly delayed, Watkins and the government repeatedly sparred through procedural motions and filings, as the St. Louis-based lawyer accused one of the prosecutors of acting with "impropriety and conflict" and calling for him to recuse himself from the case. The government called Watkins' allegations and line of arguments "baseless" in response, and the prosecutor in question, Kempf, remained on the case and was the lead presenter of the government's case. An attempt by Watkins to have charges dismissed was also rejected by Judge Brian Wimes.

Tension carried into the federal courthouse during the trial. Prosecutors repeatedly objected to certain lines of questioning from Watkins, and at points Wimes would grow openly frustrated, raising his voice during sidebar conversations with both parties.

Outside consequences for Derges continued up until the trial began. In January, she had her narcotics license put on probation for three years, and admitted to buying and prescribing drugs illegally in a settlement with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. A separate lawsuit against her was filed in May by a former patient, who alleges that Derges misled him about medical treatments to relieve his back pain.

She's also been politically exiled: stripped of her committee assignments, barred from Republican caucus meetings and banished to a closet-sized office in the state capitol.

She was blocked by the state GOP for running under the party banner for re-election this fall but has refused to resign from her seat. Under Missouri law, a person cannot run for public office "who has been found guilty of or pled guilty to a felony under the federal laws of the United States of America."

Prior to her election in 2020, Derges gained renown in the region and state for her medical clinics' work. She was also involved alongside Morris, who held her seat prior, in writing legislation pertaining to assistant physicians in Missouri. Until losing her license after her conviction, Derges had been an assistant physician.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Missouri Rep. Tricia Derges found guilty of 22 charges by jury