CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A federal grand jury has returned an indictment charging Julie Wheeler, 44, and her husband Rodney Wheeler, 48, both of Beaver, with conspiracy to obstruct justice, according to United States Attorney Mike Stuart.
The indictment alleges that while awaiting sentencing for a federal health care fraud conviction, Julie Wheeler conspired with her husband Rodney Wheeler and others known to the Grand Jury to obstruct justice by falsely reporting her fall from Grandview Park overlook, part of the New River Gorge National River. According to the indictment, on or about May 31, 2020, Rodney and a known person falsely reported her fall to the National Park Service, prompting an emergency 911 call. A massive search and rescue operation ensued. Rescue personnel found a shoe and cell phone that belonged to Julie Wheeler at the base of the overlook. To further the conspiracy, the indictment alleges that Rodney Wheeler and a known person also gave false statements to federal, state and local law enforcement officials concerning Julie Wheeler’s disappearance. According to the indictment, Rodney Wheeler addressed the incident on his Facebook page on or about June 1, 2020, expressing “hope that she will be found,” to further mislead the public and law enforcement authorities into believing Julie Wheeler had fallen and remained missing. On June 2, 2020, members of the West Virginia State Police executed a state search warrant at the Wheelers’ home and found Julie Wheeler hiding in her closet.
“Lies and deception. The indictment alleges that Julie Wheeler knowingly conspired with her husband, Rodney, to falsely report her fall from the New River Gorge National River,” said United States Attorney Mike Stuart. “Wheeler was already convicted of federal health care fraud for a most heinous crime of fraudulently obtaining nearly $300,000 from the VA’s spina bifida fund. 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. It is unconscionable conduct by any measure. I want to commend Law Enforcement Specialist Stan Wilson with the National Park Service and Trooper First Class C. A. Dunn of the West Virginia State Police for their excellent work in this case.”
After being found, Julie Wheeler was sentenced on June 30, 2020, to 42 months in prison and three years of supervised release for health care fraud. She was further ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $289,055.07. She pled guilty to the health care fraud charge on February 11, 2020, and admitted submitting fraudulent applications to the VA Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program where she overbilled for providing spina bifida care for a family member, K.L., in the amount of $289,055.07.
The Wheelers are charged for numerous felony and misdemeanor offenses in state court relating to the false reporting of an emergency. Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Keller has provided invaluable assistance throughout the federal investigation.
The National Park Service and the West Virginia State Police conducted the investigation. 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 fraud. Assistant United States Attorney Erik S. Goes is handling the prosecution.
Please note: An indictment is merely an allegation and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia. Related court documents and information can be found on PACER by searching for Case No. 5:20-cr-00145-1 (obstruction) and 2:19-cr-00135 (health care fraud).