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Missouri state GOP lawmaker facing charges for selling fake COVID-19 ‘cure’

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Prosecutors have hit a Republican state lawmaker in Missouri with more than a dozen charges after saying she administered what she claimed to be a cure for the coronavirus that turned out to be fake.

Patricia Ashton Derges, 63, faces 20 criminal charges, including wire fraud and distribution by means of the internet without a valid prescription, for her promoting of a supposed stem cell treatment marketed through her clinics in southern Missouri, according to a federal indictment that was unsealed and reported by The Washington Post.

“This defendant abused her privileged position to enrich herself through deception,” U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison said in an announcement of the charges on Monday. “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. This grand jury indictment exposes her deception and holds her accountable for her actions.”

Derges was elected to the Missouri statehouse in November.

Prosecutors said an investigation into the lawmaker began as a result of false or misleading statements she made in April 2020 to a local television station regarding her “potential use of stem cells to treat COVID-19.” 

The federal indictment charges Derges with eight counts of wire fraud related to five victims, the prosecutors said. The victims were among those who lost a total of an estimated $200,000 in the fraud scheme. Derges is not a physician but is licensed as an assistant physician.

“We place our hope and our trust in health care providers and government officials,” Timothy Langan, a special agent in charge of the FBI office in Kansas City, said in a statement. “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. 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 Bilyeu, Derges’s lawyer, told the Post that Derges plans to plead not guilty to the charges and called the indictment “one-sided.” 

“The indictment contains mere allegations and those allegations have yet to be proven,” Bilyeu said. 

In a Facebook entry on Monday, after the charges against her had been announced, Derges posted a picture of the biblical figures David and Goliath.

“I don’t think there has ever been a more appropriate picture that will depict this day,” she said. “Despite this ‘Goliath’ I will keep helping those in need and standing for the rights of all of us. Lies and twisted words mean nothing. Truth and righteousness mean everything. I can stand before God and know that He will smile at me. Goliath can’t take that away as much as he tries. Righteous people are also always able to discern the truth – I trust in this.”

Tags Cell biology Coronavirus false treatment Missouri Stem cell
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