A Missouri state representative has been indicted by a federal grand jury for her part in a fraudulent scheme where patients were allegedly administered with COVID-19 treatments that were falsely claimed as containing stem cells.
Dr Patricia Derges, a family medicine specialist and Republican lawmaker, offered her clients from Ozark Valley Medical Clinic, Missouri, amniotic fluid, which she claimed to contain stem cells, with the promise of helping an array of medical issues ranging from Lyme disease, to erectile dysfunction, to potentially curing COVID-19. The scheme was run within the clinic from December 2018 to May 2020.
An investigation was launched into her practice after attention was drawn to her Facebook posts which exclaimed: 'This amazing treatment stands to provide a potential cure for COVID-19 patients that is safe and natural' when Dr Derges repeated this claim on a Springfield television station.
Dr Derges has subsequently had a twenty-count indictment unsealed in a charge against her in the US District Court, as well as being stripped of her committee assignments for the State House. These included eight counts of wire fraud for charging the patients for treatment, two charges for making 'materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent' statements about the treatment to federal investigators, and another ten counts of distribution of oxycodone and adderall by means of the internet without a valid prescription. Each charge carries jail sentences between five to twenty years plus fines. She has also been urged to resign from her post by the House speaker, fellow Republican representative Rob Vescovo.
Patients were allegedly charged approximately $191,00 (£168,319) for the treatment, which was administrated by Dr Derges herself. Authorities claim that Dr Derges knew she was injecting a product that did not contain any stem cells, despite her claims, and it was instead an 'amniotic fluid allograft' which she marketed as regenerative biologics.
US attorney, Tim Garrison, released a statement saying that 'the defendant abused her privileged position to enrich herself through deception… The indictment alleges she lied to her patients and she lied to federal agents. As an elected official and a healthcare provider, she deserves to be held to a high standard.'
Timothy Langan, special agent in charge of the FBI Kansas City field office in Missouri, said, 'We place our hope and our trust in health care providers and government officials. The defendant's actions are not only a betrayal of that trust, but her actions erode the very core of our confidence in a system we rely on. Dr Derges vowed to do no harm as a health care professional and was elected to serve the people, not deceive them. She used her position for personal gain and damaged the public's trust.'
Stacie Calhoun Bilyeu, Ms Derges' attorney, told the Kansas City Star: 'Dr Derges, despite what it looked like yesterday, has not been found guilty or convicted of anything,' and confirmed that the representative pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. Bilyeu declined to discuss further details of the case.