Balloon Boy Mom: Co-Conspirator or Abused Wife?

If Richard Heene has become the star of his own reality show centered on what is now believed to be a hoax involving his 6-year-old son and a runaway helium balloon, his wife, Mayumi Heene, has clearly taken the supporting role.

"She's the rock for Richard. She's a saint. I would put her up for sainthood for putting up with Richard," Richard Heene's former business partner Barbara Slusser told ABCNews.com. "She'll wear orange and go to jail with him."

VIDEO: Mayumi Heenes Unconventional Parenting
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Like any good supporting actress, Mayumi Heene seems to be doing everything to back up her husband, even to her own detriment.

Slusser, who worked with Richard Heene on his "Psyience Detectives" Web show and said she became good friends with the Fort Collins, Colo., family until his temper finally drove her away last year, said his wife's Japanese background has kept her in a subservient relationship with her husband and three boys.

"She's a highly intelligent woman, a lovely soul. Man, she's gotten herself into a situation with Richard and the kids," Slusser said. "Whatever he says goes. She's basically his slave.

"She's from Japan. She told me stories about her life in Japan with her father. He was very overbearing and abusive. She came over here to be an actress," Slusser said. "Who does she meet? Richard Heene. They met in acting school when she could barely speak English. He wowed her. She kind of went from the frying pan to the fire."

Lee Christian, Mayumi Heene's lawyer, said the accounts given by Slusser and others indicate that the woman should not be accused of being a co-conspirator in any alleged hoax.

"I can't comment on the specific allegations here, but if those statements are indeed true, then the district attorney needs to seriously think about whether to charge Mrs. Heene in this case," Christian said.

David Lane, the attorney representing Richard Heene, declined to comment on the family's relationships.

"I'm not their marriage counselor, and I'm not their priest," he said. "I'm Richard's defense attorney, so I can only comment on the charges."

Another former family friend and business partner, Scott Stevens, echoed Slusser's assessment of the dynamics in the Heene household.

"It's a cultural thing, and he leveraged that knowledge," Stevens said. "He believed that Asian women can be subservient, and that's what he wanted. But it takes two to tango, and she was with him for more than a decade. Every day that was the dynamic in play."

Stevens said he broke with Richard Heene about a year ago "over ethic concerns -- storm chasing was part of it. But it was how he treated his wife, financial dealings, so many red flags that it was a forest."

Richard Heene a Responsible Parent, Neighbor Says

Some of the family's neighbors have had more positive views of the Heenes.

Their next-door neighbor in Fort Collins, Sarah Duty, told The Denver Post that the couple's three boys were "very polite and so respectful."

Another neighbor, Bob Licko, told the Post that Richard Heene seemed like a caring, responsible parent, even if he gave "free rein" to his sons.

And one of the children Mayumi Heene parented during one of the family's two stints on ABC's "Wife Swap," 15-year-old Andrew Silver, said she was tough.

"She yelled a lot," Silver told the Post. "She had strong emotions."

The couple married on Oct. 12, 1997, in Nevada, and, according to Slusser, from that day on, Richard controlled her life.

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