Beckley Woman Who Faked Death to Avoid Sentencing Will Serve 42 Months in Federal Prison for Health Care Fraud
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Julie M. Wheeler, 43, of Beckley, was sentenced by Senior United States District Judge John T. Copenhaver, Jr. to 42 months in federal prison for federal health care fraud, announced United States Attorney Mike Stuart. After serving her prison sentence, she will be placed on supervised release for three years. She was further ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $289,055.07, an amount calculated by the Veterans Administration (VA) and approved by the court.
In imposing a sentencing enhancement for obstruction, Judge Copenhaver found that Wheeler attempted to obstruct and impede the administration of justice by staging an “elaborate hoax” to fake her own death to avoid federal sentencing. On May 31, 2020, Wheeler and other family members staged her fall from the Grandview State Park overlook. Wheeler’s family members then falsely reported to law enforcement her fall off of Grandview Ledges at the New River Gorge. This report led to an extensive search effort in the New River Gorge by state, federal and local authorities, assisted by numerous volunteers. The West Virginia State Police eventually located Wheeler at her own home, hiding in a closet. Wheeler and her husband are presently charged in Raleigh County Magistrate Court for numerous felony and misdemeanor offenses relating to the false reporting of an emergency. The court found that this scheme contributed to Wheeler’s failure to accept responsibility for her criminal conduct and enhanced her federal sentence accordingly.
“Absolutely despicable. Wheeler’s egregious fraud scheme denied much needed spina bifida care for her own sister while she fleeced the Veteran’s Administration of almost $300,000,” said United States Attorney Mike Stuart. “Then she faked her own disappearance to evade sentencing, risking the lives and resources of first responders and emergency personnel. Outrageous. Terribly tragic case all around.”
Wheeler pled guilty on February 11, 2020, and admitted that she submitted fraudulent applications to the VA Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program where she overbilled for providing spina bifida care for a family member, K.L. Wheeler was 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 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.
Assistant United States Attorney Erik S. Goes handled the prosecution.
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) for the investigation of the underlying fraud, and the National Park Service and the West Virginia State Police for their work in locating Wheeler.
The fraud 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.