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Complaint offers new details of how missing woman was discovered

UPDATE: A criminal complaint obtained by WVVA News offered new insight Wednesday on how a three-day-search and rescue mission ended with the arrest of Julie Wheeler, and her husband, Rodney Wheeler.

According to court records, State Police obtained a search warrant on Tuesday for cell phones and other electronic communications between the family at their home on Ridgeview Drive in Beaver. It was during that search that State Police said they found Julie Wheeler hiding in a downstairs closet.

The complaint went on to say that Rodney Wheeler and his son planted items at the Grandview Overlook to fake the death or disappearance of Julie Wheeler. It said Julie Wheeler was trying to avoid the possibility of federal prison on a separate charge. Her sentencing on that charge was set for June 17.

Troopers said the services to assist in the investigation and rescue mission "far exceeds $1,000."

The couple is set to be arraigned shortly in Raleigh County Magistrate Court. They are currently being held in Southern Regional Jail.

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UPDATE: A three-day search and rescue mission in Raleigh County ended Tuesday with the missing woman found alive and well in her home.

Julie Wheeler and her husband Rodney Wheeler were taken into custody, after Julia Wheeler was found during a search warrant inside the couple's Raleigh County home.

The couple is charged with multiple felony counts of fraudulent schemes, conspiracy to commit a felony, conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor, false emergency report, obstructing an officer, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and willful disruption of a governmental process.

At the time her disappearance was reported, Julie Wheeler was awaiting sentencing on June 17 for Federal Healthcare Fraud. She was facing a sentence of up to 10 years of incarceration and a more $250,000 fine, according to a release by United States Attorney, Mike Stuart.

"It was all planned. The entire thing was planned," said Trooper C.A. Dunn, the lead investigator on the case.

After the couple's arrest Wednesday, Trooper Dunn thanked the numerous first responders who risked their lives during the three day search.

"On behalf of State Police, I want to thank all the outside agencies, civilians, local fire departments, the National Guard, Health Net, Raleigh County Sheriff's Department, the Division of Natural Resources, all of the fire departments. All of you that were there we appreciate the help. The folks who did the rope propelling -- on behalf of all of us at State Police, we appreciate it," said Trooper Dunn.

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UPDATE: Law enforcement has confirmed to WVVA news the woman missing over the Grandview overlook has been found alive, but not at the Grandview Overlook. Stay with WVVA News on-air and online for more details.
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UPDATE: A spokesperson for the National Park Service (NPS) has confirmed crews discovered a shoe and a cell phone over the Grandview overlook. But there is no word yet on whether they belong to Julie Wheeler.

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GRANDVIEW, W.Va. (WVVA) - Crews searched for days only to come up empty handed. Now, new information is coming to light.

The woman, Julie Wheeler, had entered a guilty plea earlier this year for Federal Healthcare Fraud and was facing up to 10 years of incarceration and a $250,000 fine, according to a release by United States Attorney, Mike Stuart.

The investigation is ongoing, with search crews from the National Park Service still not ruling out the possibility she may be over the Grandview Overlook. Crews continued to search for Wheeler by foot on Tuesday, fanning out the area of their search.

According to a spokesperson for Stuart, Wheeler's sentencing was continued to June 17, 2020.

See our previous coverage of the search here: https://wvva.com/2020/06/01/search-resumes-for-woman-who-disappeared-over-overlook/

See release from U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart on February 11, 2020:


RALEIGH COUNTY WOMAN ENTERS PLEA FOR HEALTH CARE FRAUD

 Defendant fraudulently obtained over $300,000

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Julie M. Wheeler entered a guilty plea for federal health care fraud, announced United States Attorney Mike Stuart.  Wheeler, 43, of  Beckley, faces up to 10 years of incarceration, a $250,000 fine, and  three years of supervised release when sentenced on May 20, 2020.  She will also be subject to an order of restitution in an amount ranging from $302,131 to $469,983, with the final determination to be made by the Court at sentencing.  

“Can you imagine?  Wheeler defrauded the Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program and in the process stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from taxpayers,” said United States Attorney Mike Stuart.  “Taking advantage of the condition of spina bifida of a child for personal greed is truly a despicable crime. Wheeler even admitted that she defrauded the VA of hundreds of thousands of dollars and deprived the victim- a child diagnosed with spina bifida- of services.  The VA provides critical benefits and services to heroic veterans and their dependents.  Our veterans deserve better.  The families of our veterans deserve better.  And the victims of terrible conditions like spina bifida deserve all of God’s graces.  Greed is a terribly destructive human condition.”

The VA provided health care benefits to certain Korean and Vietnam War veteran’s children who were diagnosed with spina bifida through the Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program.  Spina bifida is a type of  birth defect where there is an incomplete closing of the spine, potentially leading to complications including difficulty in walking, poor bladder or bowel control, and difficulty in mobility.  A veteran’s child, K.L., received such a diagnosis and qualified for in home care through this VA program. 

Wheeler was related to K.L and was also the owner of a homecare services company, JRW Homecare Support Services.  Wheeler was hired to provide services to K.L. due to K.L.’s spina bifida condition at the VA approved rate of $736 a day to provide eight hours of daily services.  Wheeler’s care was supposed to include bathing, grooming, changing K.L.’s clothes and other issues associated with K.L.’s hygiene, food intake, and lifestyle. 

Wheeler submitted fraudulent applications where she filled out VA forms and was overpaid for providing care for K.L.  Specifically, Wheeler did not provide K.L. the care for and during the time period described.  Wheeler submitted claims to the VA stating that she provided care for K.L. eight hours a day, seven days a week, from October 2016 to April 2018 at the full daily rate of $736 a day.  Wheeler gave a statement to the VA and the FBI admitting that she greatly inflated the rate and quality of the care that she provided to K.L. This was corroborated by other witnesses who provided statements that Wheeler did not provide eight hours of daily care.  Wheeler further admitted that her conduct defrauded the VA of hundreds of thousands of dollars and deprived the victim of services.  The victim of the spina bifida diagnosis,  K.L., has since passed away.

Stuart praised the work of the Veterans Affairs - Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the United States Department of Health and Human Services - Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG).   The investigation was conducted by members of the United States Attorney’s Healthcare Fraud Abuse, Recovery and Response Team (ARREST), an innovative approach linking civil and criminal enforcement efforts together in a comprehensive attack on the opioid epidemic and healthcare fraud.   United States Attorney Mike Stuart announced the formation of ARREST in February 2019.  All health care related cases in the Southern District of West Virginia, whether they are the subject of criminal or civil investigation or enforcement, are directed through ARREST.  Included within the purview of the team are the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, Affirmative Civil Enforcement Unit, Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO) Strike Force, Medicare and Medicaid Fraud, and Asset Forfeiture efforts related to all healthcare matters.

Senior United States District John T. Copenhaver, Jr. presided over the plea hearing.  Assistant United States Attorney Erik S. Goes handled the prosecution.

Annie Moore

Multimedia Journalist

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