Woman who tried to fake death pleads guilty to charge

Staff Writer
Mineral Daily News-Tribune
Mineral Daily News-Tribune

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia woman who conspired to fake her death at the New River Gorge has pleaded guilty to a federal charge, authorities said.

Julie M. Wheeler, 44, of Beaver faces up to five years in prison when she is sentenced in January for conspiring to obstruct justice, news outlets reported, citing a statement Wednesday from the U.S. attorney's office.

Prosecutors said Wheeler admitted to conspiring with her husband, Rodney Wheeler, to fake her death at the New River Gorge by pretending she plummeted from an overlook as part of a scheme to keep her out of having to go to prison in a health care fraud case. Wheeler's husband told authorities on May 31 that she had fallen from the main overlook at New River Gorge National River, prompting a massive search and rescue operation.

Two days later, West Virginia State Police found Wheeler hiding in a closet of her home.

Wheeler was sentenced in June to 42 months in prison for health care fraud related to overbilling and ordered to pay more than $289,000 in restitution, authorities said.

Wheeler's husband is expected to go on trial in the case next month.