Woman admits to faking her own death, sentenced to 12 months in prison

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CHARLESTON, WV (WVNS) — The woman who faked her own death from the Grandview Overlook in Raleigh County was sentenced to prison.

Julie Wheeler was sentenced Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021 to 12 months and one day for her role in a federal conspiracy to obstruct justice. United States Attorney Mike Stuart said Wheeler’s sentence was ordered to be served consecutively to her 42 month sentence previously imposed for her federal health care fraud conviction.  The consecutive sentence increases Julie Wheeler’s total sentence to 54 months in prison.

 In a separate hearing last month, Rodney Wheeler pled guilty to the federal felony offense of conspiracy to obstruct justice.  Rodney Wheeler faces up to five years of incarceration, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release when he is sentenced on April 5, 2021. 

United States Attorney Mike Stuart released the following statement on the conviction:

“Julie Wheeler faked a traumatic death to a life her judgment day with the courts. While she was found hiding in a closet she was also hiding from justice. The scheme put many lives at risk and wasted valuable resources. By conspiring to avoid her federal sentence for health care fraud, she, with the aid of her husband, only made matters worse. Julie added another year to her sentence and Rodney now has a federal felony conviction for which he will soon be sentenced.” 

Mike Stuart, United States Attorney

The case began in May of last year and caught the attention of the nation. The investigation began after a call came in to 911 no May 31, 2020 that a woman fell from the Grandview Overlook at the New River Gorge. The call prompted a massive search effort with hundreds of volunteers, law enforcement, and search and rescue personnel.

Throughout the course of the investigation, false statements were given to state and federal investigators by Rodney Wheeler as part of the conspiracy, including statements to National Park Service officers and the United States Probation Office.  The statements were given to try and lead investigators to believing Julie has fallen, and was missing. However, she was found hiding in the closet of her home with plans to go into permanent hiding with her husband.

Once the couple was taken into custody,  Rodney Wheeler and Julie Wheeler admitted they conspired to fake her disappearance to avoid Julie Wheeler’s pending federal sentencing in a health care fraud case. 

Instead of avoiding her federal sentencing hearing for health care fraud, Julie Wheeler was incarcerated and sentenced on June 30, 2020, to 42 months in prison and three years of supervised release for health care fraud relating to her overbilling a VA program for spina bifida care.  She was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $289,055.07 for the overbilling scheme. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG), the Office of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the United States Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) conducted the investigation of the underlying health care fraud. 

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