Feb. 2 (UPI) -- A newly elected Missouri state representative has been charged with administering medical treatments she falsely claimed contained stem cells.
Patricia "Tricia" Ashton Derges, 63, of Nixa, Mo., was charged by a federal grand jury in a 20-count indictment unsealed Monday with fraudulently marketing stem cell treatments conducted at her three clinics though the amniotic fluid used was acellular, meaning it did not contain any cells.
"The defendant abused her privileged position to enrich herself through deception," U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison said in a statement. "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."
The indictment states that Derges, a licensed assistant physician, operates three Ozark Valley Medical Clinics, for which she marketed as being "the leader in pain and regenerative medicine" through its use of stem cell treatments.
The authorities began investigating Derges in April of last year after she appeared on a Springfield television station claiming stem cells could be a potential cure for COVID-19, the Justice Department said.
Prosecutors said she has been charged with defrauding five victims of nearly $200,000 in connection to the treatments.
The indictment states that beginning no later than December 2018 through May of last year, Derges attempted to lure patients to her clinics by holding promotional seminars during which she advertised being able to treat various medical conditions through stem cells.
However, the amniotic fluid Derges administered to patients was sterile filtered amniotic fluid allograft that she bought from the University of Utah, the indictment states, adding that she had been directly informed by the school that the product did not contain stem cells.
She is accused of administering the fluid she claimed contained stem cells to patients suffering from tissue damage, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Lyme disease, erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence, the prosecutors said.
The court document states Derges bought the amniotic fluid allograft for about $244 for 1 ml and $438 for 2 ml while charging her patients between $950 to $1,450 per milliliter.
Prosecutors have charged Derges with eight counts of wire fraud, each of which comes with a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment.
She has also been charged with 10 counts of distributing Oxycodone and Adderall over the Internet without valid prescriptions, which comes with a maximin of five years imprisonment.
Prosecutors have also charged her with one count of making false statements to federal agents in May 2020 when she told those investigating the case that the amniotic fluid allograft she used contained stem cells as well as saying she did not treat a patient for urinary incontinence with the fluid. That charge also comes with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
"Derges knowingly provided false information and made false claims about the medical treatment she was providing, and these falsehoods may have significant consequences for the patients she served," said Curt Muller, special agent in charge of the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Derges, a Republican, was elected in November as a Missouri state representative in District 140.