A Beckley woman accused of faking her own death at the New River Gorge to avoid punishment for health care fraud was sentenced Tuesday to serve federal prison time.
Julie M. Wheeler, 43, of Beckley, was sentenced to serve three years and six months in federal prison after she previously pleaded guilty to federal health care fraud. She will also be required to serve three years of supervised release and pay restitution of $289,055.07, according to U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart.
Wheeler had pleaded guilty to health care fraud in February and had been scheduled to be sentenced in early June, but her sentencing was postponed after she and other family members allegedly staged her death May 31.
Family allegedly told authorities she had fallen from the Grandview State Park overlook at the New River Gorge, which led to an extensive search by state, federal and local authorities, as well as several volunteers.
The West Virginia State Police eventually found her at her home hiding in a closet. Charges are pending against Wheeler and her husband in Raleigh County Magistrate Court for felony and misdemeanor offenses related to that incident.
As part of Tuesday’s sentencing, Senior U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. imposed an enhanced sentence for obstruction after finding she had attempted to avoid sentencing and taking responsibility for her actions by staging the hoax.
In admitting to the health care fraud, Wheeler, owner of JRW Homecare Support Services, admitted she submitted fraudulent applications to the Veterans Administration Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program, where she over-billed for providing care for a family member.
She had been hired at a rate of $736 per day to provide eight hours of daily services, ranging from bathing and grooming to feeding. Although she did not provide those services in full, she admitted she still submitted claims to the VA stating she had provided the care from October 2016 to April 2018.
She later gave a statement to the VA and FBI, admitting she had greatly inflated the amount of care she provided.