A West Virginia woman and her husband have been arrested after they allegedly faked her death, telling authorities that she fell off a cliff, in an effort to help her avoid prison time.
West Virginia State Police arrested Julie and Rodney Wheeler on June 2, and the pair is now facing multiple charges in relation to the alleged scheme, including conspiracy and giving false information to the authorities, according to the Associated Press.
Julie Wheeler, 44, went missing on May 31 during a visit to Grandview State Park with her husband and son, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph reports. Her family claimed that she was searching for a missing earring that evening when she went tumbling over a cliff. Following the report, various organizations, including local authorities and the National Park Service, joined together in emergency search efforts for Julie even using canines to try and track her scent, all to no avail.
The search for Julie went on for a number of days until authorities located her in her home a few days later, on June 2, local NBC affiliate WVVA reports. Local police had come to search the home after a warrant was granted allowing them to seize electronics like cellphones from the house, and it was then that they discovered the woman hiding in a downstairs closet, according to the outlet. The couple was then taken into custody.
"It was all planned. The entire thing was planned," Trooper C.A. Dunn, who was the lead investigator on Julie Wheeler's case, told WVVA.
Authorities allege that Julie and her husband hatched the scheme, with the assistance of their teenage son, as a way for Julie to avoid prison time related to an ongoing case against her.
Julie, who acted as a caretaker to someone with spina bifida, had been accused of committing fraud by submitting applications to the Veteran's Administration that contained false statements regarding the length of time she cared for the individual, meaning that she was paid for hours that she did not work, according to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.
Julie pled guilty in February to federal health care fraud and was facing up to 10 years in prison, in addition to having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution and fines, the outlet reports. Her sentencing in relation to that case is slated to take place on June 17, according to the Associated Press.
The Wheelers now face numerous charges, including conspiracy to commit a felony, conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor, and filing a false emergency report, WVVA reports. It is currently unclear if the couple's 17-year-old son — who, along with his father, reported his mother missing — will face any charges.
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