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Missouri Republican lawmaker resigns after $900K COVID medical clinic fraud scheme conviction

A Missouri Republican state representative has resigned days after being convicted of 22 federal charges, the majority of those offenses being linked to a $900,000 COVID-19 fraud scheme operated through medical clinics and a non-profit at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. 

State Rep. Tricia Derges stepped down Friday from her seat representing Christian County (District 140) in the Missouri House of Representatives, KOLR reported. 

Her resignation came four days after she was convicted on June 28 by a federal trial jury for what prosecutors described as a nearly $900,000 COVID-19 fraud scheme, as well as a separate $200,000 fraud scheme in which she made false claims about a fake stem cell treatment marketed through her clinics in southern Missouri, and for illegally providing prescription drugs to clients of those clinics.

The 64-year-old from 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, the Justice Department announced earlier last week. 

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“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,” U.S. Attorney Teresa Moore said in a statement last Tuesday. “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.”

Despite her biography on the Missouri House of Representatives saying she is “a medical doctor and entrepreneur,” the DOJ stressed that Derges “is not a physician but is licensed as an assistant physician.” 

JOPLIN, MO - JULY 2:  The Covid-19 testing site at the Walmart Supercenter in Joplin, Missouri on July 2, 2020. 

She operates three for-profit Ozark Valley Medical Clinic locations in Springfield, Ozark, and Branson, Missouri, as well as the non-profit corporation Lift Up Someone Today, Inc., with a medical and dental clinic in Springfield, prosecutors said. Her official Missouri House of Representatives biography says the non-profit is a “medical-dental-mental health mission clinic that provides care for the homeless, poor and veterans,” and that Derges “teaches medical students board review classes for their USMLE licensing exams.” 

Regarding the COVID fraud scheme, prosecutors said Derges attempted to receive $900,000 in CARES Act funds. She was actually awarded $296,574 in CARES Act funds for Lift Up, even though although Lift Up did not provide any COVID-19 testing services to its patients and in fact, closed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and remained closed from March to June 2020.

Derges fraudulently claimed Lift Up provided COVID-19 testing and sought reimbursement for “COVID-19 eligible expenses” that Lift Up had incurred. To support her claim, Derges provided invoices totaling $296,574 from Dynamic DNA for more than 3,000 COVID-19 laboratory tests. 

Trace Robinson receives a coronavirus test at an Affinia testing site in St. Louis on Thursday, April 23, 2020. 

Derges submitted the Dynamic DNA invoices as Lift Up expenditures, although they were actually for testing done at Derges’s for-profit Ozark Valley Medical Clinic, prosecutors said. 

Ozark Valley Medical Center had already received payment from its clients of approximately $517,000 for these COVID-19 tests. Ozark Valley Medical Center charged clients, patients, or their patients’ employers approximately $167 per sample for its COVID-19 testing services. Derges concealed from Greene County that these COVID-19 tests had already been paid for by other payors.

Prosecutors say Derges also marketed a stem cell treatment that actually utilized amniotic fluid that did not contain any stem cells. She advertised it online as a potential COVID treatment. 

Derges administered amniotic fluid, which she falsely claimed contained stem cells, to patients who suffered from, among other things, tissue damage, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Lyme disease, and urinary incontinence. In an April 11, 2020, Facebook post, Derges wrote of amniotic fluid allograft: “This amazing treatment stands to provide a potential cure for COVID-19 patients that is safe and natural.”

Derges also was convicted of 10 counts of distributing Oxycodone and Adderall over the internet without valid prescriptions.

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