Colorado parents sentenced for "balloon boy" hoax

Wed Dec 23, 2009 5:26pm EST
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By Keith Coffman

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (Reuters) - A Colorado couple who riveted America with a bogus claim their son had floated away in a balloon received a 90-day jail term for the father on Wednesday, and both face thousands of dollars in restitution.

General contractor Richard Heene will spend at least 30 days behind bars -- the rest he can serve on work release if employed -- for masterminding a hoax and publicity stunt aimed at gaining the family their own reality television show.

His wife, Mayumi, was spared from any jail time for her part in the hoax, sentenced instead to 20 days of supervised public service work.

Both were also placed on probation for four years, during which time they must perform hundreds more hours of community service and forgo any financial benefit from their "balloon-boy" escapade, including potential earnings generated by book deals or other media ventures.

Still to be calculated are fines and restitution for the search-and-rescue operation unleashed by their bogus claims.

Prosecutors said an initial tally of expenditures by various government agencies came to $47,000 and could climb higher, not including an $11,000 fine sought by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"I do want to reiterate that I'm very, very sorry, and I want to apologize to all the rescue workers out there and people who got involved," said the father, his voice choking with emotion, moments before he was sentenced.

In a letter to the judge, Heene sought leniency for his wife, who lawyers for both sides characterized as a relatively minor player. She declined to make a statement in court.   Continued...

<p>Richard (L) and Mayumi Heene leave Larimer County district court after their sentencing hearing in Fort Collins, Colorado December 23, 2009. REUTERS/Rick Wilking</p>