KEY POINTS

  • The man told 911 that his wife fell from an overlook, which led to a search and rescue operation
  • Police found the man's wife in a closet in their home
  • The man and his wife have both been sentenced to prison

A husband who aided his wife in feigning a dramatic death from a cliff prompting a major search-and-rescue operation for two days was sentenced to federal prison Monday.

According to a press release from the Department of Justice (DOJ), Rodney Wheeler will be serving two months in federal prison after he was found guilty of conspiring to obstruct justice with his wife, Julie Wheeler, to avoid a healthcare fraud case.

An NBC News report states that the wife was sentenced to a year and one day in prison in February.

The couple from West Virginia initiated their plan on May 31, 2020. The husband began the ruse when he called 911 and reported that his wife fell from an overlook at New River Gorge National Park.

A search and rescue operation took place over two days in an effort to locate the wife. It had a professional search and rescue team, law enforcement, and dozens of volunteers involved.

The West Virginia State Police used helicopters that the West Virginia Air National Guard provided to search from the air. Rescue dogs and their handlers searched the ground. Repelling experts searched up and down the cliffs, according to the press release.

In the end, the search was over once State Police discovered that Julie Wheeler was in her Beckley home hiding in a closet, as previously reported on IBT.

Rodney Wheeler reportedly gave false information multiple times to mislead the investigators away from his wife’s location.

A post on Rodney Wheeler’s profile claimed that his wife was still missing and that he was hoping that “she will be found and she is ok.”

According to the Associated Press, prosecutors said that the couple came up with their plan to avoid the sentencing Julia Wheeler would have received for a healthcare fraud case. The DOJ stated that Julia Wheeler was planning to hide permanently with her husband as an assistant.

Rodney and Julia Wheeler were both arrested and received charges for many felony and misdemeanor offenses. On top of the prison time, Rodney Wheeler will be confined to his home for six months after he’s released. He will have three years of supervised release after that.

Julie Wheeler will serve her sentence consecutively to the 42-month prison sentence she received for the federal health care fraud conviction she tried to hide from, to begin with.

Gavel This representational picture shows a judge's gavel in court room 422 of the New York Supreme Court at 60 Centre Street, Feb. 3, 2012. Photo: REUTERS/Chip East