- The Washington Times - Monday, January 11, 2010

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The Colorado man who admitted orchestrating the “balloon boy” hoax reported to jail Monday to begin a 90-day jail sentence.

Richard Heene pleaded guilty to attempting to influence a public servant after the Oct. 15 saga that captivated a national television audience.

But Mr. Heene now says he truly believed his 6-year-old son, Falcon, was inside the balloon and that he pleaded guilty only to appease authorities and save his wife from being deported to Japan.

Mrs. Heene confessed to deputies, authorities said, and she pleaded guilty to filing a false report. She faces a 20-day jail term.

Mr. Heene wore a dark knit cap, sunglasses and a heavy jacket as he drove himself to the Larimer County jail in a red minivan. He said nothing as got out of the vehicle and ran into the building. He later returned to the minivan, retrieved something and went back inside.

Mr. Heene told the Associated Press last week that his wife misunderstood the meaning of the word “hoax” when she purportedly confessed.

“My wife’s first language is Japanese, not English,” Mr. 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.’”

In other interviews last week, Mr. Heene said investigators presented inconsistencies to the media, and he denied calling a TV station before dialing 911, as authorities said he did.

Authorities dismissed Mr. Heene’s arguments.

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

“We had been working with the attorneys for both he and his wife before charges were even filed,” he said. “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.”

Sheriff Jim Alderden said Mrs. Heene understands English better than her husband says she does.

“The interview was much more than, ‘Mayumi, is this a hoax?’ and she admitted to it. She went into the details of it,” Sheriff Alderden told the AP last week.

Mrs. Heene’s statement 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 — makes up the bulk of the case against the couple.

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 Mr. Heene’s attorney could provide a different estimate by a Jan. 25 deadline.

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

He must serve 30 days before he can participate in the jail’s work release program.

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