Balloon boy hoaxers accept plea deal

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The Independent US

The Colorado parents who reported that their six-year-old son had floated away in a helium balloon will plead guilty to some charges and serve probation so that the family can stay together, the attorney for the boy's father said yesterday.

Richard Heene will plead guilty to attempting to influence a public servant, a felony, his attorney David Lane said. Mayumi Heene – a Japanese citizen who could have been deported if convicted of more serious charges – will plead guilty to false reporting to authorities, he said.

Prosecutors haven't announced whether they have filed charges relating to the hoax, which took place on 15 October, and did not comment on the plea agreement.

The saga gripped a global audience, which initially feared for the safety of Falcon Heene and then expressed disbelief and anger at his parents when authorities accused them of perpetrating a hoax. After the boy was found safe at home, sheriff's officials contacted social workers to make sure the children were in a healthy environment.

Mr Lane did not address whether the pleas would include further monitoring of the couple.

As part of the plea deal, Lane said prosecutors have agreed to let both parents serve probation sentences. The most serious of the charges recommended by Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden would have carried a maximum sentence of six years in prison. Keeping the family together was a main factor in reaching the deal, Lane said in a statement.

"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 in a statement. "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."

The couple's frantic calls to authorities, saying they feared their son Falcon might be aboard a home- made balloon that had escaped from their Fort Collins back yard, triggered a frenzied response before the balloon landed in a dusty farm field without the boy inside. The Heenes said they found Falcon at home – hiding, they claimed.

Relief soon turned to suspicion. During a live interview on CNN hours after the balloon chase, Falcon looked to his father and said, "You had said that we did this for a show."

The Heenes are amateur storm chasers and had twice appeared on the ABC reality show Wife Swap. Former business partners said Richard Heene wanted a show of his own called The Science Detectives or The Psyience Detectives.

On 17 October, deputies questioned both parents separately. Richard Heene, 48, adamantly denied the saga was a publicity stunt. But Mayumi Heene, 45, admitted the incident was a hoax.