Prosecuting attorney weighs in on missing woman hoax

BECKLEY, WV (WOAY) – From Sunday evening to now, the story of 43-year-old Julie Wheeler reportedly falling from the overlook at Grandview turned into her found hiding in her closet all while emergency response crews were out looking for her.

On Wednesday, both Julie and her husband, Rodney Wheeler, were arraigned on multiple felony fraud charges for the scheme after they were arrested Tuesday night. 

“Fraudulent schemes which is a felony, felony conspiracy,” Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Keller said. “Also the misdemeanor of willful disruption of government processes, two different kinds of giving false information to law enforcement and contributing to the delinquency of a minor because they involved their child, so it didn’t take long before they knew something was up.” 

According to the criminal complaint, a call came in on Sunday night saying a woman had fallen over the main overlook at Grandview.

At the scene, a male juvenile and his father, Rodney, said Julie reached over to pick up an earring and fell.

It goes on to say that Rodney and the son allegedly planted items of hers like a cell phone and a shoe but there was never any evidence she was actually at the overlook.

That initial call began the giant multi-agency 40-hour search for Julie. Once the mountain had been thoroughly searched by a rappel team, helicopters, drones and other emergency crews, thee West Virginia State Police conducted a walk-through of Julie’s house in Beaver on Tuesday.

Although police did not see Julie on this visit, they returned later in the day with a search warrant and found her hiding in a closet.

The criminal complaint says the rescue efforts far exceeded $1,000, so the court will request restitution pay from the couple, but Keller says she’s not holding her breath. 

“As a matter of fact, when you have people that are either going to prison or commit frauds for monetary gain, it is very rare that the taxpayer ever gets their money back,” Keller said. 

Julie Wheeler was scheduled to appear in court for sentencing on June 17 for separate federal healthcare fraud charges and is facing up to 10 years in prison which is what appears to be the motive for wanting to come up with this scheme. After the major rescue effort put forward, Keller calls this case disturbing. 

“People’s live were put in danger and an untold amount of taxpayer money was spent on what turned out to be a fraud,” she said. 

Keller could not comment on what the juvenile son might face. 

Both were given a $100,000 bond in court and if they are able to pay it, they will have to remain on home incarceration. Julie’s sentencing date is still scheduled for June 17.

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Anna Saunders is a weekend reporter for WOAY. With a diploma from Princeton Senior High School and a mother from Fayette County, she is no stranger to the area. She received a degree in Media Arts and Design from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia and wanted to return home to start her career as a reporter.