Man Sentenced To Prison After Helping His Wife Fake Her Death

Julie Wheeler wanted to avoid serving time in connection with a fraud case but “only made matters worse,” officials say.

April 16, 2021

Mugshots of Rodney and Julie Wheeler [via West Virginia Regional Jail & Correctional Facility Authority]

Mugshots of Rodney and Julie Wheeler [via West Virginia Regional Jail & Correctional Facility Authority]

By: Aaron Rasmussen

A West Virginia man who conspired with his wife to fake her death so she could avoid spending time behind bars for a health care fraud case is now headed to prison himself, authorities said.

On May 31, 2020, Rodney Wheeler called 911 and told the dispatcher his wife tumbled over the 1,400-foot Grandview Overlook in the New River Gorge.

“This 911 call prompted a massive search and rescue operation with hundreds of volunteers, law enforcement, and professional search and rescue personnel looking for Julie Wheeler at the base of the overlook and the surrounding area,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia said in a news release. “Helicopters, rescue dogs, and repelling experts also scoured the area looking for her.”

Rodney Wheeler, 48, then continued to give false statements about the alleged incident, including on social media.

“[T]he accident at Grandview yesterday involved my wife … They have not found her yet but I am holding out hope that she will be found and she is ok … I am heartbroken and lost right now but I have to have faith … Please give us time to [work] through this and please keep us in your thoughts and prayers,” he wrote on Facebook, The Washington Post reported.

“In reality,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, “she was hiding in her own home and planning to go into permanent hiding with her husband.”

On June 2, police discovered Julie Wheeler, 44, in a closet of the couple’s home in Beaver and arrested both.

“Instead of avoiding her federal sentencing hearing for health care fraud, Julie Wheeler was incarcerated and subsequently sentenced on June 30, 2020, to 42 months in prison and three years of supervised release for … overbilling a VA program for spina bifida care,” the D.A.’s office said.

For the faked-death scheme, she received an additional 12-month sentence and was ordered to pay nearly $300,000 in restitution.

Rodney Wheeler admitted guilt to his role in the plot and got two months in prison and six months of home confinement, according to The Post.

“The scheme put many lives at risk and wasted valuable resources,” U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart said in the news release. “By conspiring to avoid her federal sentence for health care fraud, she, with the aid of her husband, only made matters worse.”

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