FORT COLLINS, Colo. The parents accused of pulling a spectacular hoax by reporting that their 6-year-old son had floated away aboard a balloon have agreed to plead guilty in a deal that could send them both to jail but protect the wife from deportation.
Richard Heene will plead guilty today to attempting to influence a public servant, a felony, said his attorney, David Lane. Heene's wife, Mayumi, a Japanese citizen who could be deported if convicted of more serious charges, will plead guilty to a lesser charge of false reporting to authorities, a misdemeanor.
Lane said the threat of deportation “fueled” negotiations with prosecutors. An attorney for Mayumi Heene said her immigration status was a factor in reaching the deal.
Prosecutors announced criminal charges against the couple Thursday. A spokeswoman for the Larimer County district attorney's office would not discuss whether a plea agreement had been reached.
The Oct. 15 saga gripped a global audience, first with fear for the safety of 6-year-old Falcon Heene and then with anger at his parents when authorities accused them of perpetrating the hoax to drum up attention for a possible reality show.
Lane said the deal does not call for removing Falcon or the couple's other two children – ages 8 and 10 – from the parents' custody.
The plea deal would spare the Heenes the maximum jail time, but Richard Heene could still get up to 90 days and Mayumi up to 60, Lane said.
Without the deal, the charge against Richard Heene carries a possible sentence of two to six years in state prison and a fine of up to $500,000. The charge against his wife is punishable by up to six months in the county jail and a fine up to $750.
On the day in question, the couple made frantic calls to authorities, saying they feared Falcon might be aboard a homemade balloon that had escaped from their backyard in suburban Fort Collins. That triggered a frenzied response by emergency crews before the balloon landed in a dusty farm field without the boy inside. The Heenes said they later found Falcon hiding at home.
Relief 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' lawyers expect prosecutors to seek restitution in the case. Local and federal authorities spent at least $62,000 chasing the balloon and then searching for Falcon after it landed.