FAA investigating Colo. balloon flight
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FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) — The Colorado parents accused of pulling a spectacular hoax by reporting their son was aboard a runaway balloon pleaded guilty Friday to charges that could bring some jail time and probation.
Richard Heene pleaded guilty to knowingly and falsely influencing Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden, a felony, in the episode that sent law enforcement scrambling to rescue 6-year-old Falcon until he was found safe at the family home. Mayumi Heene pleaded guilty to knowingly filing a false report with emergency services, a misdemeanor.
Richard Heene told judge Stephen Schapanski he understood that he could have to pay restitution for the costs incurred by public agencies because of his actions. Local and federal authorities spent at least $62,000 pursuing the balloon and searching for 6-year-old Falcon after it landed.
Schapanski told Mayumi Heene that her plea doesn't automatically prevent any action by federal authorities regarding her immigration status; she is a Japanese citizen. Her attorney, Lee Christian, acknowledged that was the case but said avoiding a trial could reduce the consequences.
Chief deputy district attorney Andrew Lewis told the judge that prosecutors always intended to charge Mayumi Heene with a misdemeanor based on her cooperation with authorities and what he called her lower level of culpability in the incident. He insisted prosecutors never used the threat of deportation in her case — contrary to what Richard Heene's attorney David Lane has said.
Christian said the possibility of going to trial and risking a felony conviction was one of "many reasons" Mayumi Heene wanted to plead guilty.
Both attorneys said their clients had no plans to talk publicly at least until after their sentencing.
Prosecutors would like the Heenes to serve some time in jail, but the final decision will be made by Schapanski at a Dec. 23 sentencing hearing.
In the meantime, Lane said Richard Heene intends to seek employment with trips to New York and California, and Mayumi Heene plans to accompany him. The judge adjusted their bond to allow them to do so, as long as they report to probation services within seven days.
Lane told the judge that Richard Heene has an "employment opportunity" in New York. Lane declined to elaborate as he left the courtroom, and Heene waved off questions.
Business associates of Richard Heene said before the balloon incident Richard Heene was trying to pitch a TV series based on science. The Heenes are amateur storm chasers and had twice appeared on the ABC reality show "Wife Swap."
Mayumi Heene allegedly told investigators the balloon launch was a hoax aimed at promoting a possible reality television show. Neither she nor her husband discussed their intent during the court hearing and neither apologized.
RDF USA, which produces "Wife Swap," has said it was developing a show with the Heenes. The company said after the Oct. 15 launch that they had scrapped the plans.
Investigators found evidence two days after the launch that the Heenes were working with RDF, according to court documents released Friday.
It wasn't clear when RDF's plans were scrapped. The company didn't immediately respond Friday to phone and e-mail requests for comment.
Other production companies are steering clear of the Heenes.
"It's just too poisonous," said Irad Eyal, vice president of development at Endemol-owned True Entertainment, who does not plan to meet with Richard Heene. "I don't think anyone is going to want to meet with a man who shamed his family and children that way. In reality TV, there's a definite line you don't cross, and that's tormenting children."
Associated Press Writer Derrik Lang in Los Angeles contributed to this report.