A federal grand jury has returned an indictment against a Beaver couple who allegedly faked the wife's fall from an overlook at Grandview State Park in June, according to United States Attorney Mike Stuart.
Julie Wheeler, 44, and her husband Rodney Wheeler, 48, both of Beaver, are both charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice.
"Lies and deception," Stuart stated in the release. "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," Stuart alleged. "It is unconscionable conduct, by any measure."
Federal prosecutors allege that Julie Wheeler was awaiting sentencing for a federal health fraud conviction, after pleading guilty on Feb. 11 to obtaining nearly $300,000 from the Veteran's Administration Spina Bifida Fund.
Julie pleaded guilty to falsifying the number of hours and level of care she had provided to her late sister, Kelly Wriston, a 2000 Oak Hill High School graduate who died in October 2018.
Wheeler was facing 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the health care fraud charge, which had been investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 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).
As part of her punishment, Stuart said, Julie would be ordered to pay restitution ranging from $302,131 to $469,983.
Her sentencing date had originally been set for May 20. On May 31, however, Rodney Wheeler told police that he, Julie and the couple's son were reportedly at Grandview State Park.
The indictment alleges that Julie and Rodney and others known to the grand jury conspired to obstruct justice by falsely reporting Julie's fall from a Grandview Park overlook, part of the New River Gorge National River.
According to the indictment, Rodney and another person, who was reported in media to be the couple's teenage son, reported to the National Park Service on May 31 that Julie had fallen down the overlook cliff.
The drop is about 1,400 feet, and there are no security cameras at the point where the Wheelers reported the fake fall, NPS officials reported in June.
Julie's cell phone and one of her shoes were found at the base of the overlook.
Local, state and federal authorities launched a massive search and rescue operation that lasted three days. The rescue mission employed helicopters, canines and rescuers who rappelled over the cliffside to search for Julie.
On June 1, Rodney posted to his Facebook page that he was holding out "hope that she will be found." The indictment alleges that Rodney's post was made to further mislead the public and law enforcement agents into believing that Julie had fallen and was missing.
There was no evidence of disturbed foliage at the site of the alleged fall and a search dog did not find a scent over the cliff, NPS officials reported on June 2. West Virginia State Police obtained a search warrant and entered the Wheeler home in Beaver on June 2. According to the indictment, troopers found Julie hiding in a downstairs closet.
Julie and Rodney were both taken into custody.
The National Park Service and the West Virginia State Police conducted the investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Erik S. Goes is handling the prosecution.