The parents of the so-called “balloon boy,” who caused public outrage in October when they told authorities their son had been swept away in a homemade hot-air balloon, will serve jail time for orchestrating the hoax.
At a sentencing hearing Wednesday in Fort Collins, Colo., Larimer County District Judge Stephen Schapansk ordered Richard Heene to serve 90 days in prison, the maximum proposed under a previous plea agreement. His wife, Mayumi Heene, will serve only 20 days of the 60 proposed under her plea deal. Both parents will be subject to supervised probation for four years, be required to maintain employment, and are prohibited from profiting in any way from the incident.
“This case is all about deception, exploitation … and it’s about money,” Judge Schapansk said before announcing the sentences.
On Oct. 15, the Heenes alerted authorities and the media, claiming their young son Falcon was inside a home-made balloon they released from their backyard. Five hours later, Falcon emerged from a hiding place in the family’s garage and said in a subsequent television incident that his family “did this for a show.” The Heenes had previously appeared on a reality television program and are thought to have staged the event to get an additional reality program. Two days after the incident, Mrs. Heene confessed to police that it had indeed been a hoax.
As part of a plea deal reached with prosecutors, Mr. Heene pleaded guilty to attempting to influence a public servant, a felony charge, earlier this month. Mrs. Heene pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge of making a false report to authorities.
At Wednesday’s sentencing, Mr. Heene addressed the court only briefly. “I’m very, very sorry and I want to apologize to all the rescue workers out there and the people that got involved in the community,” he said tearfully. Mrs. Heene declined to make any comments on her own behalf.
Attorneys for both Mr. and Mrs. Heene, who were represented separately, argued for probation in lieu of prison time.
David Lane, representing Mr. Heene, also stated his client’s request that Mrs. Heene should be spared punishment.
“Above all, this is [Richard Heene’s] fault. If anyone has to go to jail here, it should be Mr. Heene, not Mayumi Heene,” Mr. Lane said.
Lee Christian, Mrs. Heene’s attorney, said the family had been punished enough because of the negative media attention they received as a result of the incident. The Heenes have been “prisoners in their own home for weeks,” he said.
The sentences for both Heenes will also include restitution payments, which will be determined at a later date. Prosecuting attorneys estimated the amount spent during rescue attempts to be about $50,000, including the “man hours” from various law enforcement agencies and damages to the crops in the field where the balloon landed. This does not include an $11,000 fine that attorneys for the Heenes said had already been levied by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Mr. Heene is not required to begin his sentence until Jan. 11 so that he can be with his family for the holidays. After 30 days of incarceration, he will be allowed to work outside the prison during the day. Mrs. Heene will not begin her sentence until after her husband has been released and has the option of serving her sentence nonconsecutively, in weekend or mid-week segments.
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