Wheeler, 24, sat between his parents before the hearing began and was taciturn throughout the proceedings. When asked for his plea, he uttered an almost inaudible "guilty."
Later, during a series of questions to determine Wheeler’s competency to change his plea, Kottmyer asked him, "Can you tell me in your own words what’s happening today?" Wheeler responded, "Yes."
Pressed to elaborate, Wheeler paused for several seconds. Finally, he said, "I’m entering a guilty plea."
SHAPING THE SENTENCE
Sussman also contested the $45,806 restitution figure requested by the prosecution, but Kottmyer ruled with the prosecution on that issue as well.
Sussman said that Wheeler was willing to be held accountable for repaying the prize money he earned while at Harvard—$4,000 for the Hoopes Prize and $2,000 for the Sargent Prize, both of which he won with plagiarized essays; and $8,000 for the Rockefeller research grant, which he obtained through a plagiarized research plan.
But Sussman said that Wheeler should not pay restitution for the financial aid which he received as a Harvard student because Wheeler did not directly receive those funds.
"Whether it came from Harvard’s endowment or its school fund, it went into another Harvard account," Sussman said of the financial aid money Wheeler had been granted. "It’s all the same entity."
Kottmyer disagreed: "That money was not available to another student who was legitimately at Harvard. It may be that the money would not have been given out that year, but it would remain in the bank, so to speak, for another student."
Verner read to the court a statement from Harvard which said, "We believe that restitution is important...[the money] can be put to use to support deserving Harvard students."
Wheeler might not be able to pay the restitution fee that has been imposed, Sussman noted. "His financial circumstances at this time are obviously minimal. His employment is part time and minimum wage," he said, stating later that Wheeler is doing research work at a nonprofit organization.
Wheeler was jailed upon his arrest in May and initially pleaded not guilty. He remained in prison until he posted his $5,000 bail in mid-June.
Kottmyer cautioned today that if Wheeler violates the terms of his probation—which include avoiding any contact with Harvard and continuing psychological treatment—Wheeler could be sentenced to the statutory maximum penalty for each of the counts against him. Wheeler has been charged with four counts of larceny, each of which carries a potential penalty of up to five years in state prison, in addition to 16 other counts.
Kottmyer formally sentenced Wheeler to two-and-a-half years in prison, with all but 30 days of that sentence suspended for 10 years. Wheeler has already served "36 to 37 days" in jail, according to Verner, so he will not be returning to prison.
Another condition of his probation is that Wheeler is "prohibited from profiting from the facts and circumstances of this case," meaning that he cannot, for instance, write a book about his crimes.