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Missouri Rep. Derges indictment grows to include alleged $900K COVID fraud scheme

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Rep. Tricia Derges fraudulently sought and obtained about $300,000 for coronavirus tests already paid for by clients at a for-profit clinic, authorities said in a new indictment unsealed Friday. Derges, who was indicted by a federal grand jury in February for an alleged wire fraud scheme and illegally providing prescription drugs, ultimately sought nearly $900,000 in CARES Act funding, investigators said. 

Derges has pleaded not guilty to all of the 23 counts, including the newly unsealed ones, her attorney said. 

Derges, 63, allegedly received $296,574 in CARES Act funds in December 2020 after submitting a fraudulent application to Greene County. The application sought reimbursement for more than 3,000 tests provided by her nonprofit Lift Up Someone Today, Inc. However, investigators said the tests were actually done by her for-profit Ozark Valley Medical Center which she had already received payment from clients for. 

Lift Up and the Ozark Valley Medical Center are separate entities. After receiving nearly $300,000 from Greene County, Derges transferred the money to the Ozark Valley Medical Center’s account, investigators said. 

Greene County received about $34 million in federal CARES Act funds, and the Greene County Commission allocates the money through its relief fund. Derges, in total, requested $882,644 from the fund for Lift Up. Investigators said she allegedly concealed that Ozark Valley Medical Center was paid about $1 million by clients, patients, and patients’ employers for the COVID tests. 

Al Watkins, the attorney representing Derges, called the indictment a “skewed view of the truth,” in an interview with The Missouri Times. He said the nonprofit and clinic worked together in “collaboration” to provide health services, including tests, during the pandemic. He also said the government has seized the money she was provided. 

“The government is erroneously asserting that the CARES Act money was mishandled. In truth and in fact, these additional counts lack the wholesale basicness of appropriate due diligence by the Department of Justice of its investigative undertakings of Dr. Derges,” Watkins said. 

Watkins said the Lift Up nonprofit had to shutter during the pandemic due to COVID-related staffing issues but worked in tandem with the Ozark Valley Medical Center to provide “free health care and COVID testing to the poor and indigents at their clinic which had paid staff.” 

“As a result, there was a collaborative undertaking between the 501(c)3, which could not keep its doors open, and the limited liability company [Ozark Medical Center] that operated with a fully paid professional staff who paid out of their own pocket and incurred the costs with COVID testing and treatment for the poor, indigent, and those otherwise incapable of navigating the American health care system during a worldwide crisis,” Watkins said. 

The original indictment alleged Derges wrote electronic prescriptions for oxycodone and Adderall and transmitted the drugs over the internet without having conducted in-person medical evaluations. 

Derges also allegedly obtained amniotic fluid and falsely claimed it contained “mesenchymal stem cells” during a seminar and in personal consultations. The amniotic fluid did not, however, contain any stem cells. Derges allegedly administered the amniotic fluid to patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney disease, and tissue damage, among other ailments. 

Additionally, Derges faces two charges of making false statements to federal agents during the investigation in May 2020 regarding the use of the amniotic fluid and whether it included stem cells. 

Derges was removed from the House Republican Caucus, stripped of committee assignments, and is facing calls from leadership to resign

“With allegations of fraudulently securing federal coronavirus relief funds among the latest felony criminal charges filed against Republican state Rep. Tricia Derges, it further calls into question her fitness to serve in the legislature. But more immediately, it raises deep concerns about whether she should be casting votes that will determine how Missouri allocates its share of those relief funds,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade said Friday. “Given the situation, it would be appropriate for her to recuse herself from voting when the House debates the state budget next week.”

Derges is licensed as an assistant physician — not a physician — and operates Ozark Valley Medical clinics in Branson, Ozark, and Springfield. She was first elected to serve as a Republican state representative for HD 140 in 2020.