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'Balloon Boy' Parents Plead Guilty

Six-year-old Falcon Heene with his father, Richard, outside the family's home in Fort Collins, Colo., in October.
David Zalubowski
Six-year-old Falcon Heene with his father, Richard, outside the family's home in Fort Collins, Colo., in October.

A Colorado couple pleaded guilty Friday to charges related to a massive hoax that had authorities scrambling to find a boy believed to have been carried away in a helium balloon.

Richard Heene pleaded guilty to a felony charge of attempting to influence a public servant, Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden. His wife, Mayumi Heene, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of filing a false report.

Last month, the couple called Federal Aviation Administration officials, a Fort Collins, Colo., television station, and law enforcement officers to report that their 6-year-old son was inside a helium balloon that HAD becOme untethered from the family's house and floated away.


Authorities launched a massive search for the child, Falcon, only to find that he was hiding in the garage of the family home. Prosecutors and Alderden said the parents coerced their children to lie to authorities in an effort to get roles in a reality television show.

Richard Heene told Judge Stephen Schapanski he understood that he could have to pay restitution for the costs incurred by public agencies because of his actions. Local and federal authorities spent at least $62,000 pursuing the balloon and searching for the boy.

The judge warned Mayumi Heene, a Japanese citizen, that her actions and plea could affect her immigration status. But Lee Christian, attorney for Mayumi Heene, said by pleading guilty he hopes she will avoid more serious consequences.

Prosecutors want the Heenes to serve some time in jail, but the final decision will be made by Schapanski at a Dec. 23 sentencing hearing.

David Lane, attorney for Richard Heene, said the couple plan to travel to New York soon to follow up on "an employment opportunity" for Richard. Lane also said the Heenes are scheduled to go to California.


The judge adjusted their bond to allow them to make the trips, as long as they report to probation services within seven days.

Business associates of Richard Heene said before the balloon incident, he was trying to pitch a TV series based on science. The Heenes are amateur storm chasers and appeared twice on the ABC reality show Wife Swap.

From NPR and wire service reports

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