Sentences Announced for Colorado “Balloon Boy” Parents


Larimer County, Colorado—A couple who masterminded a publicity stunt involving their son and a giant homemade hot-air balloon will face jail time and probation, ordered a judge.

Richard and Mayumi Heene, whose family had been on the popular ABC television program “Wife Swap,” and who were actively trying to land another reality-TV gig, duped the nation in October, when they called authorities to report that their 6-year-old son Falcon had climbed aboard a large silver balloon, which then came unmoored. Millions of viewers watched live broadcasts of the balloon floating and spinning over eastern Colorado as authorities scrambled to organize a rescue effort. According to the prosecutor in the case, the search-and-rescue totaled nearly $50,000 and involved multiple agencies, including the National Guard, the U.S. Forest Service, and local sheriff’s and fire departments.

The balloon landed approximately 15 miles east of Denver International Airport. Rescuers rushed to the scene only to find the balloon’s hold empty, leading many to fear that the boy had fallen out in mid-flight. That the entire incident was a hoax did not become apparent until the family was being interviewed on national news programs in the days following the balloon’s flight.

Richard Heene was charged on a felony count of attempting to influence a public servant, while Miyumi Heene received a misdemeanor charge of false reporting to authorities. Both pleaded guilty last month in accordance with a plea deal which was intended to keep Mayumi Heene, who is a Japanese citizen, from being deported.

On Wednesday, Richard Heene was sentenced to 90 days in custody, beginning January 11. Two-thirds of that sentence can be spent on work-release program. Mayumi Heene will serve 20 days in jail. Both will be on probation for four years, and must complete community service. The couple will be allowed to serve their sentences at different times, so that one of them can always remain at home with their children.

Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration intends to impose a $11,000 fine on the couple.

According to court documents, released last month, the Heenes had come up with the balloon scheme about two weeks before it was actually carried out. They also “instructed their three children to lie to authorities as well as the media regarding this hoax.”

The Heenes have come under public criticism for attempting to exploit their children in order to make the family more marketable for future television appearances. After the sentencing by Larimer County Judge Stephen Schapanski, an apologetic Richard Heene made a statement.

“I’m very, very sorry. And I want to apologize to all the rescue workers out there and the people who got involved in the community.”


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