- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 12, 2009

DENVER — The Colorado parents accused of masterminding the “balloon-boy” escapade plan to plead guilty Friday to both felony and misdemeanor charges and could serve light jail terms as part of a plea agreement designed to keep the family together, according to their attorney.

In a statement released Thursday, Denver attorney David Lane said that Richard Heene would plead guilty to attempting to influence a public servant, a Class 4 felony. His wife, Mayumi Heene, a Japanese citizen who could face deportation under a felony conviction, has agreed to plead guilty to filing a false report to authorities, a Class 3 misdemeanor.

The Larimer County District Attorney’s office has agreed to allow the Heenes to serve probation in exchange for their pleas, but the couple may still serve some jail time. Mr. Heene’s sentence could land him up to 90 days in jail, while Mrs. Heene may serve up to 60 days, according to Mr. Lane.

The Heenes are slated to appear in court at an 8:30 a.m. hearing Friday in Larimer County Court in Fort Collins.

The family gained international attention Oct. 15 when they reported that their 6-year-old son Falcon was possibly inside a homemade helium balloon that had been accidentally released.

The silver, saucer-shaped balloon floated about 50 miles from their home in Fort Collins before touching down near Denver International Airport. Falcon wasn’t inside the balloon, and later turned up at the family home.

Days later, Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said the incident was a hoax designed to win the family a contract with a reality-television show. The Heenes faced the possibility of felony charges that could have resulted in prison sentences of as long as five years.

Mr. Heene has proclaimed his innocence; however, Mr. Lane said that he had agreed to plead guilty to the felony charge in exchange for a lighter charge against his wife. Had prosecutors filed felony charges against Mrs. Heene, she could have been deported to Japan, the attorney said.

“Unfortunately, the prosecutors insisted upon a package deal where Richard would have to fall on his word and take a felony plea despite the fact that he made no incriminating statements to law enforcement and Mayumi’s statements could not be used against him,” he said.

In a separate interview, Mrs. Heene confessed to investigators that the family planned the incident as a publicity stunt, according to court documents. Even so, Mr. Lane said her statements would have been largely inadmissible as evidence against her husband.

“Given the marital privilege, it is doubtful Mayumi could have been called as a witness against Richard and the rules against hearsay would have prevented the showing of the videotaped statement she made against Richard,” he said.

Even though Mr. Lane said his client would have likely been acquitted, such a trial “would have put the famly at grave risk of seeing a loving, caring, compassionate wife and mother ripped from the family and deported. This was not an acceptable risk, thus these pleas.”

Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said last month that county child-welfare workers had opened an investigation into the family. The Heenes have three young sons, and have spoken openly about taking them along on “storm-chasing” adventures involving tracking tornadoes and hurricanes.

The family has also appeared in an episode of the reality television show “Wife Swap,” in which Mrs. Heene traded places with a risk-averse Connecticut woman.

Mr. Lane blasted prosecutors for what he described as using the threat of deportation against the family.

“It is supremely ironic that law enforcement has expressed such grave concern over the welfare of the children, but it was ultimately the threat of taking the children’s mother from the family and deporting her to Japan which fueled this deal,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office had no immediate comment on any possible plea deal, which would have to be approved by a judge.

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