0

Dad in balloon boy hoax begins jail time Monday

Photo by Donnie Ikpa

Photo by Donnie Ikpa

FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- The father who pleaded guilty to orchestrating the balloon boy hoax is to turn himself in to begin serving a 90-day jail sentence Monday following a media blitz in which he said he was innocent.

Richard Heene told The Associated Press that his Japanese wife misunderstood the meaning of the word "hoax" when she purportedly confessed to authorities.

"She cries, now and then, stating that I'm going to jail for 90 days because of what she said," Heene said in an interview Friday, about Mayumi Heene's statements to police.

He maintained there was no balloon hoax, even though he pleaded guilty and agreed to be sentenced to 90 days in jail. He said he truly believed his son was inside the balloon when it floated away in October, and that he pleaded guilty only to appease authorities and save his wife from being deported to Japan.

But District Attorney Larry Abrahamson said it was the Heenes and their attorneys, not prosecutors, who brought up the issue of deportation.

Richard Heene must serve 30 days starting Monday before he can participate in the jail's work release program.

In interviews with several media outlets last week, he said investigators presented inconsistencies to the media shortly after the Oct. 15 event, which captivated a national television audience. He says his phone records show he called 911 before calling a TV station for a helicopter. And he maintains he told authorities the truth about whether the balloon could float away carrying his 6-year-old son.

But it was Mayumi Heene's confession to sheriff's investigators -- in which she detailed the couple's efforts to pitch a television show, their financial difficulties, and their actions in the weeks leading up to the event -- that make up the bulk of Larimer County authorities' case against the Heenes.

"The interview was much more than, 'Mayumi, is this a hoax?' and she admitted to it. She went into the details of it," Sheriff Jim Alderden said in an interview with the AP. "So, clearly she has a better understanding of the English language than Richard Heene would have you believe."

Added Abrahamson: "We had been working with the attorneys for both he and his wife before charges were even filed. There was a lot of discussion about what was going to happen, about how and why. We were surprised that now he's coming out and saying that it wasn't a hoax."

Mayumi pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and faces a 20-day jail term.

"My wife's first language is Japanese, not English," Richard Heene said. "My wife came home in tears wondering what she might have said. She opened this Japanese-to-English dictionary, and she walks up to me crying her head off, and she says to me, 'I thought hoax meant an exhibition."

Mayumi Heene was not speaking to the media.

The Heenes must also pay restitution for the rescue effort that sent officers from two counties and other agencies scrambling. The Colorado National Guard launched two helicopters to track the balloon and possibly rescue the boy. Prosecutors estimate the Heenes owe $48,000, though Richard Heene's attorney could provide a different estimate by a Jan. 25 deadline.

Richard Heene also faces an $11,000 civil penalty from the Federal Aviation Administration. The balloon briefly shut down a runway at Denver International Airport.

Sheriff's investigators suspected the family's claims that Falcon Heene was inside the balloon were a hoax after Falcon declared in a CNN interview that "we did this for the show." The boy hid for five hours in the garage as the saga unfolded.

Alderden said that Falcon's comments had clearly "raised everybody's level of skepticism."

Asked about whether Falcon feels to blame for his parents' jail sentences, Heene said: "First off, we never presented the idea that that statement caused anything, so he's completely unaware of that, in that arena. We've done that because it wouldn't be fair to him, it's just, it's not.

"We don't have cable. The kids don't watch. And the reason why we disconnected the cable is because there's so much negative news out there. Well, now I'm a part of it."