A Missouri state representative is accused of selling fake stem cell treatments she claimed could cure a host of ailments, including COVID-19.
Patricia Derges, 63, allegedly treated patients with phony stem cell treatments and illegally prescribed drugs online, according to an indictment obtained by Oxygen.com. Derges is a a state representative for Missouri’s 140th District, but is also a licensed assistant physician who has operated three medical clinics in southern Missouri. In that role, she pushed counterfeit stem cell treatments worth hundreds of thousands of dollars on patients, prosecutors allege.
Last spring, Derges came under investigation by federal agents after allegedly spreading falsehoods on television and social media about using stem cells to treat the coronavirus.
“This amazing treatment stands to provide a potential cure for COVID-19 patients that is safe and natural,” Derges allegedly wrote on Facebook on April 11, 2020.
The bold advertisement was not only “misleading,” prosecutors said, but the stem cell treatments Derges was marketing were altogether bogus.
“Stem cell shots,” which Derges promoted at Las Vegas seminars, on radio shows, social media, and elsewhere online were actually an "acellular" amniotic fluid, meaning it contained none of the stem cells she promised, the indictment stated.
Yet, Derges appeared to promote stem cells and the amniotic fluid she administered as one and the same.
“All of the components of the God given Amniotic Fluid: Mesenchymal Stem Cells (progenitor cells which are baby stem cells can become any tissue they want),” she wrote on Facebook, according to the indictment. “Cytokines, exosomes, chemokines, hyaluronic acid, growth factors and over 800 proteins work together to create a human being,”
Derges administered the amniotic fluid, which she billed as a stem cell treatment, to patients suffering from a range of conditions, including kidney disease, tissue damage, Lyme disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and urinary incontinence, the indictment stated.
In February 2019, she allegedly injected a man who was suffering from erectile dysfunction with one milliliter of amniotic fluid she told him were stem cells. The patient found Derges’ clinic through his own “internet research."
Derges was aware the amniotic fluid didn’t contain stem cells, according to emails she exchanged with drug suppliers, prosecutors said.
Between December 2018 and May 2020, Derges allegedly conned nearly $200,000 from at least five patients she’d treated with the bogus stem cell injections.
“This defendant abused her privileged position to enrich herself through deception,” U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison said. “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.”
Derges allegedly purchased the amniotic fluid from the University of Utah for $244 per milliliter and later hawked the same dosage — branded as stem cell shots — for between $950 and $1,450. She pocketed a total of $191,815, according to bank transfer records contained in the indictment.
“Derges vowed to do no harm as a health care professional and was elected to serve the people, not deceive them,” Timothy Langan, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Kansas City Field Office, said. “She used her position for personal gain and damaged the public’s trust.”
Derges is also accused of illegally writing electronic prescriptions and selling Oxycodone and Adderall online without conducting in-person medical evaluations and lying to federal agents. She was charged with eight counts of wire fraud, selling drugs online without a valid prescription, and making false statements.
The Republican lawmaker pleaded not guilty to all the charges in court this week.
“These are just allegations,” Derges’ defense attorney, Stacie Calhoun Bilyeu, told Oxygen.com, on Thursday. “We’re just getting started.”
The Springfield lawyer blasted the federal government’s sprawling 20-count grand jury indictment as “one-sided.”
“I’m just asking that people remember that this is America,” Bilyeu added. “You are presumed innocent until and if — and only if — proven guilty and that has not happened. Dr. Derges hasn’t been convicted of anything.”
Derges received her medical degree from the Carribean Medical University of Curacao, prosecutors said. In 2017, she was licensed as an assistant physician in Missouri. Ozark Valley Medical Clinic, the chain of medical centers she operates, has locations in Springfield, Ozark, and Branson, Missouri. The clinic’s website described itself as a “leader in pain and regenerative medicine in southwest Missouri.”
In 2018, Derges was the recipient of the exclusive Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award. She was recognized for providing mental health services to military veterans and the homeless, according to her campaign website. Oprah Winfrey, Tom Brokaw, and former New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera have also won the award.
Derges ran unopposed — and was elected— to serve the 140th District of the Missouri House of Representatives in August 2020. Her district historically votes Republican.
On Monday, the 63-year-old state legislator was stripped of her position on the House's Health and Mental Health Policy committee after news of the stem cell fraud allegations broke, according to House documents obtained by Oxygen.com. Derges was also unseated from two other committees.
"The charges against Tricia Derges are serious and politically damaging," James W. Endersby, a political scientist at the University of Missouri, told Oxygen.com."It is difficult to imagine that she has the political capital to overcome what may be likely to become ongoing negative publicity."
Despite mounting pressure to step down, the Missouri lawmaker doesn’t plan to abandon her office, her lawyer said.
“She has no plans to announce her resignation at this time,” Bilyeu added.
Derges was released pending trial. Her next court date is scheduled for May 3, according to her defense attorney.
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