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Inside the federal trial of Nixa state Rep. Tricia Derges

The federal courthouse in Springfield, Mo. is shown on June 29, 2022.
Gregory Holman/KSMU
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The federal courthouse in Springfield, Mo. is shown on June 29, 2022.

Tricia Derges, a state lawmaker and an assistant physician, faced a recent trial. Charges included wire fraud, illegal distribution of controlled substances and making false statements to investigators.

A “smokescreen of excuses and ridiculous claims.”

That’s how a federal prosecutor described the defense of Tricia Derges, a Missouri Republican state lawmaker representing Nixa. Derges also operated nonprofit and for-profit clinics in the Springfield area. This week, a jury found Derges guilty on all 22 federal counts charged. Andrew Sullender, a reporter for the Springfield News-Leader who covered the trial in-depth, talked to KSMU about the legal saga. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Q. What was the trial about?

A. Throughout the trial, prosecutors said the case was about the fact that a doctor can't lie about what they put into their patient's body. And it seems like that argument won the day.

Though Tricia Derges is an elected official, the 22 crimes she was convicted of fell into four buckets — all of which had to do with her medical practice as an assistant physician. First, she lied to her patients about an injection she falsely claimed contained stem cells. She prescribed opioids without ever seeing the patient she's prescribed them for. She lied to the FBI. And lastly, she defrauded Greene County out of nearly $300,000 of emergency coronavirus aid near the beginning of the pandemic.

Q. Talk about the evidence presented by the federal prosecutors — and what was Rep. Derges's defense?

A. Derges's defense centered around her intent, or lack thereof, while committing these crimes. Defense Attorney Al Watkins told the jury, "There couldn't be a scheme just to help people," but at every opportunity, the prosecution showed video, audio, Facebook posts and interviews where Rep. Derges claimed her treatments contained stem cells — when she knew they did not.

The prosecution also presented evidence of a cover-up through the testimony of Greene County Commissioner Bob Dixon, who approved Derges's county coronavirus aid. After she was indicted in 2021, she repeatedly contacted Dixon asking him to publicly defend her. Then she asked him to hide evidence that she made those requests. She even secretly recorded Dixon in a tape that was played at trial where she clearly made those requests.

Q. So, a local connection there on the county level. What does this verdict mean for this sitting lawmaker? I gather Missouri state law has a thing or two to say here.

A: That's right. As a federally convicted felon, Derges is ineligible to run for reelection. She had been previously pushed out from running as a Republican by the state GOP. But she had been floating a write-in campaign, and that's not possible now.

She remains free until her sentencing hearing, which is at least four months away. She lost all her medical licenses, is no longer allowed to speak publicly or teach about stem cells or any other issues in the case, and is no longer allowed to call herself a doctor. The federal government seized the $300,000 she defrauded from Greene County.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs and investigations.