Parents jailed for Balloon Boy stunt

19:13, Jan 04 2010
Boy missing from flyaway balloon
Screengrab of a police officer chasing the small homemade helium balloon as it landed in Colorado.
Boy missing from flyaway balloon
The homemade helium balloon floated thousands of feet into the air above Colorado, thought to have six-year-old Falcon Heene inside.
Boy missing from flyaway balloon
The homemade balloon resembled a flying saucer as it drifted across the Colorado skies.
Boy missing from flyaway balloon
The home-made balloon seen over Colorado, near Fort Collins.
Boy missing from flyaway balloon
Police examine a compartment on the bottom of the small homemade helium after it landed in Colorado.
Falcon Heene with his family
Falcon Heene (centre) with his brothers Ryo (left), Brad (right) and mother and father Richard.
falcon heene balloon boy
Falcon Heene, in two YouTube videos.
Falcoln Heene
WINGS CLIPPED: Six-year-old Falcon Heene sits cross-legged on the roof of his family's van outside his home in Fort Collins, Colorado after the little boy was said to have been found hiding in a box in a space above his garage.
Falcoln Heene
BALLOON BOY: Falcoln sparked worldwide fears as television viewers watched live as the air balloon he was thought to be inside flew wildly across Colorado.
Falcon Heene
FALCON HEENE: The youngster was said to have hid in a cardboard box above his family's garage after being scolded by his father.
Falcon Heene
FAMILY'S RELIEF: The balloon Falcon was thought to be aboard, had been constructed by his father Richard, who enjoys storm chasing.
Falcon Heene
LITTLE MONKEY: Falcon Heene shows where his family claimed he hid.
Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden
IT'S A HOAX: Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden speaks at a news conference in Colorado where he announced that reports that a six-year-old boy was believed to be in a flying saucer-like helium balloon hurtling away from his home, was a publicity stunt arranged by the boy's parents.

The parents who carried out the balloon boy hoax have been sentenced to jail and given strict probation conditions that forbid them from earning any money from the spectacle for four years.

Richard Heene was sentenced to 90 days in jail, including 60 days of work release that will let him pursue his job as a construction contractor while serving his time. His wife, Mayumi, was sentenced to 20 days in jail.

Richard Heene choked back tears as he said he was sorry, especially to the rescue workers who chased down false reports that his six-year-old son had floated away in a balloon on October 15. It was a stunt designed to generate attention for a reality TV show.

Richard and Mayumi Heene
JAIL TERM: "She cries, now and then, stating that I'm going to jail for 90 days because of what she said," Richard Heene said about Mayumi Heene's statements to police.

"I do want to reiterate that I'm very, very sorry. And I want to apologise to all the rescue workers out there, and the people that got involved in the community. That's it," said Richard Heene, whose wife did not speak at the hearing.

Larimer County District Judge Stephen Schapanski then ordered Heene to begin a 30-day jail term on January 11, delaying the start of the sentence for two weeks so he can spend the holidays with his family. Schapanski allowed Heene to serve the remaining 60 days of his jail term under work release, meaning he can work during the day but spend his nights in jail.

The Heenes' probation will be revoked if they are found to be profiting from any book, TV, movie or other deals related to the stunt.

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Richard and Falcon Heene
PUBLICITY STUNT: Richard Heene with his son, Falcon.

"This, in simple terms, was an elaborate hoax that was devised by Mr and Mrs Heene," the judge said.

The Heenes pleaded guilty to charges that they carried out the balloon hoax, with deals that called for up to 90 days in jail for the husband and 60 days for his wife.

Schapanski ordered Mayumi Heene to serve 20 days in jail after her husband completes his sentence. Her time served is flexible - she can report to jail on 10 weekends, for example - so the children are cared for, the judge said.

Prosecutors asked for the maximum sentence for the husband, saying that a message needs to be sent to promoters who attempt to carry out hoaxes to generate publicity. Chief Deputy District Attorney Andrew Lewis also asked for full restitution to reimburse authorities for the cost of investigating the hoax - an amount that could exceed US$50,000.

"People around the world were watching this unfold," he said. "Mr. Heene wasted a lot of manpower and a lot of money in wanting to get himself some publicity."

He added, "Jay Leno said it best when he said, 'This is copycat game.' And people will copycat this event. (The Heenes) need to go to jail so people don't do that."

He portrayed the Heenes as growing increasingly desperate as their pitches for a reality TV show kept getting turned down by networks - and the family fell deeper into a financial hole. Lewis said the Heenes set in motion the balloon hoax in early October as a way to jumpstart the effort and get some attention.

They chose October 15 because the weather was cooperating and the kids were home for school with parent-teacher conferences, allowing the Heenes to report that 6-year-old Falcon had floated away, Lewis said.

Once the parents were brought in for questioning, Richard Heene feigned sleep during the lie-detector test, claiming it was some sort of diabetic episode, Lewis said.

David Lane, Richard Heene's attorney, pleaded for leniency with the judge and said that the couple "have learned a lesson they will never forget for the rest of their lives." He also said that if someone has to go to jail, let it be Richard Heene and not his wife.

"That is his plea. That would be something of a Christmas miracle if that can occur," he said.

AP