Woman who went over cliff is facing prison time for 2019 fraud

Rescue team pullling a rope to tie down for repellers to locate a 43 year old lady who apparently fell off the overlook at Grandview National Park. (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald)

A woman who reportedly fell into New River Gorge from the Grandview Overlook on Sunday has been found "alive and well," but she is not yet out of the woods.

Julie Wheeler, 44, and her husband, Rodney Wheeler, 47, were placed under arrest at their Beaver home Tuesday night on a batch of charges that include fraudulent schemes, conspiracy, felony conspiracy, willful disturbance of governmental process, contributing to the delinquency of minor, obstructing an officer and other charges, according to State Police Sgt. B.A. Wood.

Rescue crews searched for Wheeler beginning Sunday evening after authorities had received a report that she had fallen into the gorge while trying to retrieve an earring. Just after 8 p.m. on Sunday, a 911 caller to Raleigh County Emergency Operations Center reported that Wheeler had gone over a cliffside at an overlook at Grandview State Park.

The search for Wheeler extended into Tuesday.

"After an extensive search, troopers from the Beckley State Police Detachment has located Julie Wheeler alive and well," State police First Sgt. C.F. Kane reported in a press release Tuesday evening.

In additiomn to the fresh set of charges on Tuesday, Julie Wheeler is also facing 10 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and court-ordered restitution for a September 2019 health fraud charge.

Wheeler had pleaded guilty on Feb. 11 to submitting fraudulent applications to the Veteran's Administration while serving as caretaker for an individual with Spina Bifida, a birth defect that often results in a patient being unable to walk and relying on others for feeding, hygiene and other daily care.

As a result of the plea, United States Attorney Mike Stuart said in February, Wheeler was facing 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. As part of her punishment, he said, she also would be ordered to pay restitution ranging from $302,131 to $469,983.

Wheeler, a mother of two, was set to be sentenced on June 17, Deanna Eder of the Southern District said Tuesday.

On Sunday evening, Wheeler was reportedly at Grandview State Park with her husband Rodney Wheeler, and the couple's son.

EOC dispatchers reported that Raleigh Sheriff's Department was dispatched to Grandview on Sunday evening. A Raleigh deputy responded to the initial report, but the investigation was eventually turned over to West Virginia State Police, a Raleigh Sheriff's Office representative said Tuesday.

It was unclear on Tuesday afternoon if Wheeler's husband, Rodney Wheeler, or her son had placed the 911 call.

NPS Rangers were told Sunday that Julie had been searching for an earring when she fell over the cliff, Perkowski-Sisk said.

"That was the story that came from the family," Perkowski-Sisk said. "The information I received (was) that it was just confirmed by family."

Emergency crews, including those from the National Park Service, the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office, Beaver Volunteer Fire Department, the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department, JanCare Ambulance Services, the Beaver Volunteer Dive Team, and the Fayette County Vertical Rescue Team used rope lines and other methods to search for Julie.

Rescuers brought dogs to search for Julie on Monday. According to Perkowski-Sisk, the dog detected Julie's scent at the top of the overlook.

Search and rescue officers found a cell phone over the cliff on Monday, Perkowski-Sisk verified. She did not state whether officials had verified on Tuesday that the cell phone belonged to Julie.

Perkowski-Sisk said that NPS rescuers were told by an unidentified person in the case that Julie had been wearing a pink shirt Sunday. NPS officials reported that a shoe was also found at the search site, but it was unclear if authorities believed the shoe belonged to Julie

Rescuers had not been able to find signs of foliage disturbance at the site on Monday or Tuesday, Perkowski-Sisk said. A helicopter search on Monday had failed to find the missing woman.

"They have not seen an obvious disturbance (of foliage)," she reported. "The helicopter crew was out yesterday and did a visual search over the area, but, you know, there's a lot of tree.

"There's a lot of underbrush, a lot of Rhododendron, steep cliff lines, sharp drops."

Rescuers were using a rope line on Tuesday to go down into the New River Gorge, a jagged, deep canyon that attracts tourists and locals, to continue searching for Julie, Perkowski-Sisk said.

“Someone did observe the woman looking over the overlook, and when they turned around and looked back, she was gone," National Park Service Chief of Interpretation Eve West had reported on Monday. “That’s really all the information we have right now.”

Rescuers began looking for Julie immediately after the fall was reported to authorities, West reported.

Investigators had not released Julie's identity to the public on Monday evening, but Rodney made a Facebook post around 7:30 p.m. Monday in which he asked the public to pray for Julie.

"The accident at Grandview yesterday involved my wife," Rod Wheeler posted. "They haven't found her yet, but I am holding out hope that she will be found and she is OK.

"I am heartbroken and lost right now, but I have to have faith," he wrote. "Please give us time to work through this, and please keep us in your thoughts and prayers."

The Wheelers had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2011. They owned an Oak Hill motorcycle riding club, Saints and Sinners, in 2014, according to data at the Secretary of State's Office.

The couple has two sons.

Julie had graduated from Oak Hill High School in 1994.

Julie was the owner and operator of a business called JRW Home Health Support Services in early 2019, according to court documents.

The Appalachian Region Prescription Opioid Task Force (ARPO) was investigating "pill mill" clinic operations in West Virginia and surrounding states in April 2019, according to a report by MetroNews. ARPO is a team member of the United States Attorney’s Healthcare Fraud Abuse, Recovery and Response Team (ARREST), which links civil and criminal enforcement efforts to investigate the opioid epidemic and healthcare fraud.

Julie was one of seven defendants from the Southern District who faced federal charges as a result of the ARPO investigation. The other six defendants, including five doctors, faced charges related to unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, without a legitimate medical purpose.

In September 2019, Julie was charged with health care fraud in September 2019, following the ARPO investigation. Her charge was the only charge that did not involve drug distribution.

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