A Missouri state representative was charged in a 20-count indictment that alleged she fraudulently administered treatments, including for Covid-19, that falsely claimed to have stem cells.
Patricia Ashton Derges, 63, allegedly gave so-called “regenerative” treatments to clients who came to the Ozark Valley Medical Clinic looking for treatment for various illnesses, according to a grand jury indictment unsealed Monday.
The clinic offered its patients amniotic fluid that claimed to have stem cells, but in fact was acellular, without stem cells.
After Derges made false claims on a Springfield television station in April that stem cells could treat Covid-19, an investigation was launched, the FBI said in a statement on Monday.
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And on Facebook, Derges claimed her clinic’s “amazing treatment stands to provide a potential cure for COVID-19 patients that is safe and natural,” the indictment said.
She self-surrendered on her indictment Monday and was released following an initial appearance in federal court, according to the U.S Attorney’s Office.
Derges’ actions were a betrayal of trust instilled in her as both a health professional and a government official, Special Agent in Charge Timothy Langan, of the FBI’s Kansas City office, said.
“Derges vowed to do no harm as a health care professional and was elected to serve the people, not deceive them,” Langan said. “She used her position for personal gain and damaged the public’s trust.”
According to the indictment, Derges administered the treatment to patients with the promise that stem cells would help alleviate a range of health issues, from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to erectile dysfunction. Derges, an assistant physician who got her medical degree from Caribbean Medical University of Curacao in May 2014, allegedly gave the treatments herself.
The clinic obtained amniotic fluid through the University of Utah for about $244.00 per ml. Derges then charged her patients $950 to $1,450 per ml of amniotic fluid, the indictment said, with some paying as much as $6,500 for what they thought were treatments with stem cells.
Patients paid Derges approximately $191,815 for amniotic fluid that did not contain stem cells, the indictment claims.
Federal prosecutors for the Western District of Missouri said Derges had multiple email exchanges in 2019 to the Director of Cell Therapy and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Utah, who told her that the fluid did not contain stem cells.
Derges was hit with eight counts of wire fraud in relation to charging the patients, who were not identified, for the allegedly fake stem cell treatment. Each count comes with a maximum sentence of a $250,000 fine and 20 years in prison.
She also faces two charges for making “materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent” statements regarding her amniotic fluid treatments to federal investigators last year, each count carrying up to five years in prison.
Prosecutors also alleged that Derges prescribed Oxycodone and Adderall to people online without a proper medical evaluation. She faces 10 counts of distribution by means of the internet without a valid prescription, each carrying a maximum of 20 years in prison.
“This defendant abused her privileged position to enrich herself through deception,” U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison said in the FBI statement. “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.”
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Derges, a Republican, was elected in November to a two-year term after running unopposed for the District 140 state house seat. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent to her government email address.
In a Facebook post Monday night, Derges cited the biblical story of David and Goliath while claiming that God would be on her side.
“Lies and twisted words mean nothing. Truth and righteousness mean everything,” the post said. “I can stand before God and know that He will smile at me. Goliath can’t take that away as much as he tries.”
Stacie Calhoun Bilyeu, an attorney for Derges, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News. She told the Kansas City Star that she was “limited” in what she could say on the matter and that her client pleaded not guilty to all charges.
“Dr. Derges, despite what it looked like yesterday, has not been found guilty or convicted of anything,” Bilyeu said.
Doha Madani is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.