A contrite Richard Heene, whose plan for fame went awry after he and his wife falsely reported that their son was drifting over eastern Colorado in a balloon, apologized Wednesday to a judge.
“I’m very, very sorry. And I want to apologize to all the rescue workers out there and the people who got involved in the community. That’s it,” Heene said quietly at his sentencing.
His wife, Mayumi, sat quietly and declined to speak.
Larimer County Judge Stephen Schapanski, who chose to adhere to a plea agreement, sentenced Richard Heene to 90 days in custody, to begin January 11. Heene can spend the last 60 days of the sentence in a work release program but must return to the jail at night, the judge said.
Heene will be on probation for four years and must complete 100 hours of community service each year during that period.
Mayumi Heene was sentenced to 20 days in jail — less than the 60 days sought by prosecutors. The judge said her term would begin after her husband’s jail sentence ends, so at least one of them can be with their children during that time.
She was given the option of serving her time over 10 weekends. She also received four years’ probation and must perform 120 hours of community service.
The couple also must pay restitution, but no exact amount was announced in court. The judge ordered that they not benefit financially from the incident.
Prosecutor Andrew Lewis outlined for the court episodes that demonstrate the extensive planning he said occurred before the October 15 balloon flight, which was aimed at generating publicity for the couple, who sought a reality TV show.
“One of those episodes had to do with filling up a weather balloon with helium that looked like a flying saucer and making it move through electric charges,” Lewis said. The episodes were discovered when authorities searched the Heenes’ home.
Lewis said that a few weeks before the incident, the Heenes were told that no one was showing interest in their program proposal. He added that the couple was having trouble paying their bills.
Once the balloon was aloft, Richard Heene called the Federal Aviation Administration twice and a television station, Lewis said. Heene told everyone that his 6-year-old son, Falcon, was aboard the balloon.
Multiple agencies, among them the National Guard, sheriff’s and fire departments, and the U.S. Forest Service, swarmed over the area to track the balloon.
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Department tallied the cost, including the hours spent on the investigation, to be at least $47,000. In addition, the FAA plans to impose an $11,000 fine.
According to the judge, traffic at Denver International Airport was delayed during the incident. The balloon landed about 15 miles east of there, Schapanski said. The child was not found on the balloon; he came out of hiding at his parents’ home several hours later.
Meanwhile, TV viewers were “transfixed” by the saga, he said. “This clearly was a planned event.”
“In summary, what this case is about is deception — exploitation of the children of the Heenes, exploitation of the media, exploitation of the emotions of the people — and it’s about money. This was all done for the purpose of making money,” Schapanski said.
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