Balloon Boy Parents Richard Heene, Mayumi Heene Get Jail Time, Probation

Richard Heene sentenced to 90 days jail, Mayumi Heene must serve 20 days.

December 23, 2009, 7:34 AM

Dec. 23, 2009 — -- Richard Heene and Mayumi Heene, the parents behind the balloon boy hoax, will soon float away to jail.

Today, Larimer County, Colo. Judge Stephen Schapanski sentenced the couple behind one of the year's biggest media stunts to a total of 110 days jail and eight years probation. He also prohibited the couple from making any money off the balloon boy fiasco during that time.

Schapanski stated that Richard Heene must spend 30 days in jail beginning Jan. 11, 2010. The remaining 60 days of his 90-day sentence may be carried out under "work release," meaning he can work during the day and spend nights in prison.

"This will be supervised probation," Schapanski said about that part of the sentence. "The terms and conditions will be that Mr. Heene is in fact prohibited from receiving any form of financial benefit -- whether it be media, a book, an article he writes -- anything of that kind that stems from this incident."

The judge also ruled that Richard Heene must write a letter of apology to the community and public service agencies that were roped into the Oct. 15 stunt, perform 100 hours of community service and submit to random drug or alcohol testing.

Mayumi Heene, wife of Richard Heene and mother of 6-year-old Falcon, who was thought to be in the homemade helium-powered balloon the day it swept over Colorado, received a similar sentence to her husband's: 20 days jail time, to be served after Richard Heene completes his sentence, four years supervised probation, 120 hours community service, a mandatory letter of apology and a stipulation that she cannot profit from the fiasco for at least four years.

Many wanted jail time for the father of three.

In laying out his reasons why Richard Heene should get jail time, chief deputy district attorney Andrew Lewis told the court, "Mr. Heene wasted a lot of man power and a lot of money in wanting to get himself some publicity," and added that the court should make an example of him.

"I think Jay Leno said it best when he said, 'This is a copycat game.' And people will copycat this event. They need to go to jail so people don't do that," Lewis said.

In his attempt to seek a lesser sentence, David Lane, Richard Heene's attorney, invoked the example of Orson Welles, noting that the author didn't go to jail for convincing the world that it was being invaded by aliens in his 1938 "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast.

Richard Heene himself said little during the process, only apologizing once more before Judge Schapanski handed down his sentence.

"I do want to reiterate that I'm very, very sorry," Richard Heene said, pausing before continuing, "and I want to apologize to all the rescue workers out there and the people that got involved in the community. That's it."

Mayumi Heene, a Japanese citizen, was represented by her own lawyer who emphasized her lack of past criminal offenses and competence as a mother in his attempt to avoid jail time for his client. She declined to make a statement before Judge Schapenski's sentencing.

Should the Heenes Face More Punishment Than Jail?

At least one man believes Richard Heene should face harsher punishment than prison.

Bob Heffernan, a lead investigator in the case for the Larimer County Sheriff's Office, said in a letter to the judge dated Nov. 30 that there should be limits on how the Heenes might profit from the Oct. 15 hoax, such as through book or TV deals.

"This would hopefully stop the Heenes from being able to exploit their criminal behavior or their children any more than they already have," Heffernan wrote in the letter. "All the while the Heenes were playing us all in hopes of making themselves more marketable."

Last month, the Heenes pleaded guilty to charges that they carried out the balloon boy stunt in October to promote a reality TV show. Richard Heene, 49, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of attempting to influence a public servant. Mayumi Heene, 48, pleaded guilty to false reporting, a misdemeanor.

Lane said in a November statement that the parents accepted the plea deal rather than risk a trial in which Mayumi Heene, if found guilty, would face deportation to Japan.

"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. "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."

Today's sentence may not be the end of the family's troubles. The Heenes could still face federal fines and/or charges stemming from an ongoing civil investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration because their stunt caused some planes at the Denver airport to switch runways while the balloon was in flight.

Timeline of the Balloon Boy Blowup

The Heenes sparked a nationwide panic when they called 911 Oct. 15 to report that Falcon had climbed inside a saucer-shaped balloon that became untethered in the backyard of their Fort Collins home. Local, state and federal authorities followed the runaway balloon while sheriffs fielded hundreds of phone calls with suggestions about how to get the boy safely to earth. Accross the country, thousands of people watched as the balloon soared across the Colorado sky.

Soon after the balloon landed with no one aboard, the Heenes said they found Falcon hiding in the rafters of the family garage. Within hours, celebration turned to suspicion when, during a CNN interview, the 6-year-old Falcon said, "We did this for a show."

The Heenes had twice been on the ABC reality TV series "Wife Swap." A former business partner told media outlets that Richard Heene had been in talks to create his own show and had likely launched the balloon as a publicity stunt.

Then, in separate interviews with police Oct. 17, Mayumi Heene admitted the incident was a hoax, sparking child protective services to interview the children themselves.

The Heenes' stunt rung up a hefty bill. According to Lane, the Larimer County District Attorney's Office estimates the total costs associated with the balloon boy fiasco at $46,000. That figure includes $8,000 in sheriff's department overtime, $13,500 in deploying law enforcement from various Colorado counties, and $16,000 for the use of two National Guard helicopters, according to The Associated Press.

Though it only happened a few months ago, the hoax has gone down as one of the most memorable of the year, if not the decade, earning an ABC News "Bernie" nomination for 2009's most eggregious wannabe star along with placement on scores of other "best of the worst" lists.

ABC News' Russell Goldman contributed to this report.