Balloon Boy Mom: Co-Conspirator or Abused Wife?

Friends say Mayumi Heene was subservient to husband Richard and three boys.

Oct. 20, 2009— -- 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 "She'll wear orange and go to jail with him."

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.

Slusser said Mayumi Heene confided in her when Richard wasn't around.

"She so needed a friend," she said. "He kept her isolated and separated from everyone else. She honestly asked me one time, 'Is there something wrong with way we live?' She wasn't sure that American women lived this way with her husbands.

"In the same vein, she would say she was totally happy," Slusser added. "She absolutely loved Richard and her family. If you put her foot to the fire she would say nothing is wrong. It doesn't surprise me that there was a domestic violence problem."

Slusser was referring to last February's 911 call from the Heene home. When a Larimer County Sheriff's deputy responded, he found Mayumi Heene with "a mark in her cheek and broken blood vessels in her left eye," according to the report obtained by ABC's Denver affiliate KMGH-TV.

Mayumi Heene told the deputy she was having a problem with her contacts and refused to look the deputy in the eye even after the area around her eye began to swell and turn red, the police report said.

The Larimer County district attorney's office never pressed charges, saying there was a lack of evidence.

On Saturday, the Larimer County Sheriff's Department, concerned about possible violence from Richard Heene against the household, tried to persuade his wife to stay in a safe house. She refused.

Mayumi Heene: Subservient Wife and Mom

"She's the silent sufferer," Slusser said.

Meanwhile, she said, Richard rules the roost. His angry outbursts, seen publicly when the couple appeared twice on "Wife Swap," were a daily occurrence, Slusser said.

The show presented the household as one clearly run by the husband. According to a promo for its first episode, Richard called Mayumi his "ninja wife" because she "maintains equipment, drives the storm-mobile, films tornadoes and waits with the kids while Richard jumps on his motorbike, heads into the eye of the storm and launches rockets to measure magnetic forces."

"While Richard devotes every moment to his research, he expects Mayumi to cook, clean and run the house without any help," the promo continued.

In that episode, which aired October 2008, Richard screamed at Karin, the wife who swapped places with Mayumi: "You're a man's nightmare. I'm so glad my wife was born in Japan."

Slusser said whenever she came over for dinner, Mayumi Heene always cooked -- and remained in the kitchen throughout dinner.

"She wouldn't join us to eat. She'd say, 'No, no, no,' and get very uncomfortable," Slusser said. "The kids would come through and say, 'We want to eat.' They'd grab a whole thing of ice cream and put Mountain Dew on top."

"I always try to be a friend to my kids," Mayumi Heene said on the first episode of "Wife Swap."

In reality, according to Slusser, her three boys -- Falcon, 6; Ryo, 8; and Bradford, 10 -- are out of control, and she's subservient to them.

"She accepts this even from her own children, who are all male," Slusser said. "She considers herself less than all four of them."

That might explain why Mayumi always went along with Richard's schemes and allowed the children to participate, too.

"Richard's the inventive one, the plotter," Slusser said. "He turns to her and she'll be complicit with it. They're like in a reality show all the time. Their lives are scripted however Richard wants it to be."

Slusser said she has little doubt that Mayumi went along with Richard's latest scheme involving Falcon and the helium balloon.

"She's chosen to be part of this, she knew it was staged," she said. "But she probably wouldn't have realized the trouble they would get into."

Since the incident Thursday, Mayumi Heene's appearances on television have all been an act, Slusser said.

"The only time you ever see her show emotion is when she's acting, when she's on TV, otherwise, she's the most stoic person," Slusser said. "I think if she gets arrested, she'll finally show some real emotion."