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West Virginia woman gets 42 months in prison for defrauding the Veterans Affairs, faking her death

Julie Wheeler and her family faked her death in late May in an effort to avoid federal sentencing for defrauding the Veteran's Association

VA building in DC in 2019
VA building in DC in 2019
(ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP via Getty Images)
Updated: July 1, 2020 - 12:30pm

A woman who pled guilty to defrauding the Department of Veteran's Affairs of hundreds-of-thousands of dollars, then faked her death to avoid sentencing has now been sentenced to 42 months in federal prison. 

Julie Wheeler, of Beckley, West Virginia, pled guilty in February to submitting fraudulent applications the VA Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program. Wheeler was hired to provide services to her sister, K.L. Wheeler, who suffered from the spina bifida condition, at the VA approved rate of $736 a day for eight hours of service. 

But Julie Wheeler did not actually provide care, which included bathing, grooming, feeding, and other lifestyle efforts to her sister, who has since passed away. Wheeler initially claimed she provided eight hours of service a day, seven days of the week from October 2016 to April 2018. In February of this year, Wheeler admitted that she significantly inflated the rate and quality of care provided, thereby defrauding the VA of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In late May, Wheeler staged an "elaborate hoax" to fake her own death in an attempt to avoid federal sentencing for her crime.

She and other family members staged a fall from the Grandview State Park overlook, which they falsely reported to law enforcement, leading to an exhaustive search effort in the New River Gorge. The West Virginia State Police eventually located Wheeler hiding in a closet at her home.

Wheeler and her husband have been charged in Raleigh County for several felony and misdemeanor offenses pertaining to the false reporting of an emergency. 

Wheeler's stunt resulted in the court finding she had failed to accept responsibility for crimes committed and opted to enhance her federal sentence.

On Tuesday, she was sentenced by a senior district judge to 42 months in federal prison, after which she will be on supervised release for three years. She was also ordered to repay the nearly $290,000 she stole from the VA.

United States Attorney Mike Stuart called the case, “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. 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," he said.