She Faked a 'Traumatic Death.' That Just 'Made Matters Worse'

W. Va's Julie Wheeler gets year sentence for cliff fall scheme, on top of another sentence of 42 months
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 4, 2021 9:45 AM CST
She Thought She'd Avoid Jail by Faking Her Death. Nope
Julie Wheeler.   (West Virginia Regional Jail & Correctional Facility Authority)

She thought she'd avoid jail by faking her death. Instead, she'll spend an extra year behind bars on top of an earlier sentence of 3.5 years. Julie Wheeler—who was found hiding in a closet last spring, days after her husband claimed she'd fallen from a steep cliff—was sentenced Wednesday to one year and one day in federal prison for conspiracy to obstruct justice, to be served after her 42-month sentence for defrauding a Veterans Affairs program. "By conspiring to avoid her federal sentence for health care fraud, she, with the aid of her husband, only made matters worse," US Attorney Mike Stuart says in a statement, per the Register-Herald. Wheeler's husband had called 911 on May 31, 2020, claiming his wife had fallen from a lookout over West Virginia's New River Gorge. Rescuers searched for days before Wheeler was found in her own home.

Both she and her husband admitted to the scheme, which they'd planned so that Wheeler could avoid a federal sentencing hearing. Authorities say the couple planned to go into "permanent hiding." Instead, Wheeler and her husband were detained. A month later, she was sentenced to 42 months in prison and three years of supervised release for overbilling a Veterans Affairs program for spina bifida care, authorities say. She was also ordered to pay almost $290,000 in restitution. With Wednesday's addition, her total sentence is 4.5 years. In faking "a traumatic death," Wheeler "put many lives at risk and wasted valuable resources," Stuart says. Her husband, Rodney, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice during a hearing last month. He faces up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release at his sentencing on April 5, per WVNS. (Read more faked death stories.)

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