Julie Wheeler tumbled over the side of a cliff in West Virginia just before she was due to be sentenced to federal prison for healthcare fraud — at least, that’s what her husband told the National Park Service.
Two days later, police found her hiding in a closet 10 miles away, according to court filings
A grand jury returned an indictment Tuesday charging the 44-year-old woman and her husband, 48-year-old Rodney Wheeler, with conspiracy to obstruct justice, federal prosecutors said in a news release.
The couple is already facing several misdemeanor and felony charges in state court relating to the fake disappearance.
“Instead of accepting responsibility and being accountable for her horrendous conduct, she and her husband concocted a really bad scheme and, in the process, risked the lives of first responders and the critical resources of taxpayers,” U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart said in the release. “It is unconscionable conduct by any measure.”
Julie Wheeler was indicted in September 2019 in an alleged $300,000 healthcare fraud scheme involving the federal government’s Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program, according to court filings.
She pleaded guilty to the charges in February and was facing up to 10 years in prison and up to nearly half a million dollars in restitution, prosecutors said in a news release at the time.
Three months later, Rodney Wheeler reported her missing from Grandview State Park.
According to the indictment, he told the National Park Service on May 31 that his wife had fallen from an overlook, “prompting an emergency 911 call.”
Rescue crews searched for her on and off over the next two days using a helicopter and infrared gun while also rappelling down the cliff side, WVNS reported. The terrain — home to “a lot of underbrush, a lot of Rhododendron, steep cliff lines, sharp drops” — was difficult to navigate, according to The Register-Herald.
Prosecutors said they also “found a shoe and cell phone that belonged to Julie Wheeler at the base of the overlook,” and Rodney Wheeler even posted on Facebook about her disappearance.
“They haven’t found her yet but I am holding out hope that she will be found and she is ok,” he said, McClatchy News reported. “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.”
The post has since been deleted.
State and federal law enforcement came to the Wheelers’ house in Beaver, West Virginia, multiple times after Julie Wheeler was reported missing, according to the indictment. But it wasn’t until West Virginia State Police executed a search warrant on June 2 that they found her “hiding in a closet,” prosecutors said.
She’d reportedly been in that same closet on at least two separate occasions while law enforcement officers were in the house.
Julie Wheeler was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison June 30 for healthcare fraud, according to Wednesday’s news release. She was also ordered to pay close to $290,000 in restitution.