Woman who faked death to avoid prison found hiding in closet

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A West Virginia woman faked her death to avoid a potential 10-year prison term — but was found hiding in a closet at home after a massive three-day search, according to authorities.

Julie Wheeler was reported missing Sunday by her husband and 17-year-old son, who said she fell over the main overlook at the New River Gorge National River, police and park officials said.

It led to a huge, multi-agency search-and-rescue mission, with helicopters, sniffer dogs, rappellers and a diving crew searching a nearby gorge, the Register-Herald said at the time.

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As part of the search, investigators got a search warrant to get her phones and computers — and found her “alive and well” Tuesday, hiding in a closet in her home in Beaver, they say.

“It was all planned. The entire thing was planned,” the lead investigator, Trooper C.A. Dunn, told WVVA.

Wheeler and her husband, Rodney Wheeler, were arrested Tuesday on multiple charges including conspiracy and giving false information to West Virginia State Police. It’s unclear whether the son — accused in the criminal complaint of helping plant items to suggest she fell from the cliff — will face criminal charges.

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Julie Wheeler pleaded guilty to federal health care fraud in February after scamming $300,000 from the VA, officials say.

She faced up to 10 years in prison and a fine of more than $250,000 for what prosecutor Mike Stuart called a “despicable crime.”

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She’ll be sentenced for that charge on June 17. It’s unclear whether the couple have an attorney who could comment on their behalf.

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