FORT COLLINS, Colo. - The former participants of a reality-television show who claimed their 6-year-old son floated away in a balloon over Colorado were ordered to spend time in jail for staging the hoax that gripped a nationwide television audience in the fall.
The judge, noting that the hoax was "all done for making money," also barred Richard and Mayumi Heene from receiving any financial benefit - such as a book deal - in connection with the incident.
Richard Heene, who appeared on the verge of tears when apologizing to the court, was ordered to serve 90 days in custody - 30 days in jail and 60 days in a work-release program. Under that program, he will be allowed to work as a construction contractor during the day but must return to jail at night.
Mayumi Heene was sentenced to 20 days in jail, under terms similar to her husband's. They will not have to serve their sentences at the same time.
The couple were also placed on four years' probation. Still unclear was how much the couple might be required to pay in restitution to the agencies that spent hours trying to rescue the boy. Prosecutors have requested that the couple be ordered to pay $47,000 in restitution. A judge will consider that issue later.
Last month, Richard Heene, 48, pleaded guilty to one felony charge of trying to influence a public official. Mayumi Heene, 45, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of making a false report to law enforcement. The couple agreed to the plea bargain in an effort to avoid the possible deportation of the mother, a Japanese citizen, according to Richard Heene's attorney, David Lane. Although it was unlikely she could be forced to testify against her husband, the family feared she might be convicted and deported, Lane said.
The Heenes, of Fort Collins, are amateur storm chasers who have appeared on the ABC show Wife Swap and apparently staged the hoax to try to get their own reality-television show.
"This, in simple terms, was an elaborate hoax," the judge said yesterday.
On Oct. 15, the Heenes had told authorities that their youngest son, Falcon, had sneaked into a helium balloon that lifted off accidentally from their backyard. The journey of the balloon - a silvery craft reminiscent of a UFO or a tray of Jiffy Pop popcorn - was watched by millions of people on live TV.
When the balloon landed in a field two hours later and was found to be empty, a search was launched for Falcon, who presumably had fallen to his death.
Falcon later appeared and said he'd been hiding in the Heenes' garage.
Authorities grew suspicious soon after the incident, while the Heene family was interviewed on Larry King Live. When Falcon was asked why he had stayed in hiding so long, he looked at his parents and said: "You had said that we did this for a show."
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, Chief Deputy District Attorney Andrew Lewis said.
According to court papers, Mayumi Heene admitted to Larimer County sheriff's deputies several days later that the escapade was a publicity stunt.