Balloon boy’s parents charged in alleged hoax

  • Thu Nov 12th, 2009 10:22am
  • News

By P. Solomon Banda Associated Press

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Colorado prosecutors said today they have filed criminal charges against the parents accused of staging a hoax when they reported their 6-year-old son floated away aboard a helium balloon.

Prosecutors said Richard Heene was charged with attempting to influence a public servant, a felony. They charged Mayumi Heene with false reporting to authorities, a misdemeanor.

The father’s attorney, David Lane, said Richard and Mayumi Heene would plead guilty to the charges in a plea deal so that the family could stay together. He earlier said in a statement that a plea deal would stipulate probation, but said later this morning that jail time was also a possiblity.

Prosecutors did not confirm the existence of a plea deal.

In a statement, the Larimer County district attorney’s office said the Heenes have agreed to turn themselves in and are scheduled to appear in court on Friday.

The saga gripped a global audience, first with fear for the safety of 6-year-old Falcon Heene and then with anger at his parents when authorities accused them of perpetrating a hoax.

After the boy was found safe at home, sheriff’s officials contacted social workers to make sure the children were in a healthy environment.

Lane didn’t address whether the pleas would include monitoring of the couple. Mayumi Heene’s attorney, Lee Christian, did not return a call, and the Heenes didn’t answer when an Associated Press reporter knocked on their door this morning.

As part of the plea deal, Lane said prosecutors have agreed to let both parents serve probation sentences. The most serious of the charges recommended by Sheriff Jim Alderden would have carried a maximum sentence of six years in prison.

Keeping the family together was a main factor in reaching the deal, Lane said in a statement.

“Upon reviewing the evidence, arguably, Mayumi could have possibly ended up being deported and Richard could have proceeded to trial and had a good chance at an acquittal,” Lane said in a statement. “This, however, would have put the family at grave risk of seeing a loving, caring, compassionate wife and mother ripped from the family and deported. That was not an acceptable risk, thus these pleas.”

The couple’s frantic calls to authorities, saying they feared their son Falcon might be aboard a homemade balloon that had escaped from their suburban Fort Collins back yard, triggered a frenzied response before the balloon landed in a dusty farm field without the boy inside. The Heenes said they found Falcon at home — hiding, they said.

Relief soon turned to suspicion. During a live interview on CNN hours after the balloon chase, Falcon looked to his father and said, “You had said that we did this for a show.”

The Heenes are amateur storm chasers and had twice appeared on the ABC reality show “Wife Swap.” Former business partners said Richard Heene wanted a show of his own called “The Science Detectives” or “The Psyience Detectives.”

On Oct. 17, deputies questioned both parents separately. Richard Heene, 48, adamantly denied the saga was a publicity stunt. But Mayumi Heene, 45, admitted the incident was a hoax, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Lane said Mayumi Heene’s statements likely couldn’t have been used against her husband because of marital privilege, which can keep a person’s spouse from testifying against him or her.

“Unfortunately, the prosecutors insisted upon a package deal where Richard would have to fall on his sword and take a felony plea despite the fact that he made no incriminating statements to law enforcement and Mayumi’s statements could not be used against him,” Lane said.