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 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.
Mayumi Heene confessed to deputies, authorities said, and she pleaded guilty to filing a false report. She faces a 20-day jail term.
Richard 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 to retrieve his driver's license and went back inside.
After Richard Heene turned himself in, Mayumi Heene drove away by herself. District Judge Stephen Schapanski said she could report to jail after her husband finishes his sentence so she could care for the couple's three boys.
Meaning of ‘hoax’
Richard 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," he 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.'"
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.
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.
Must pay restitution
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."
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