Richard and Mayumi Heene Ordered to Jail for Balloongate

Hoax mastermind sentenced to 90 days, while Mayumi gets 20 days; couple not allowed to profit from their scheme

By Natalie Finn, Josh Grossberg Dec 23, 2009 7:32 PMTags
Richard Heene, Mayumi HeeneMatt McClain/Getty Images

Richard and Mayumi Heene didn't quite get their "Christmas miracle."

The couple who wanted America to believe that their 6-year-old son, Falcon, was adrift in a runaway balloon both were sentenced to jail time for crafting a hoax that first captivated then horrified the nation.

Before learning his fate, a visibly shaken Richard offered a choked-up mea culpa:  "I want to reiterate that I'm very, very sorry, and I'm going to apologize to all the rescue workers."

His lawyer, David Lane, also said Richard accepted full responsibility and begged for leniency for his wife.

"If anyone has to go to jail here, your honor, it's Richard Heene...Do not send his wife to jail. That's his plea," said Lane. "That would be something of a Christmas miracle."

Guess you could call Judge Stephen Schapanski a bit of a Grinch.

"In the end what this case is about is deception, exploitation...and money," said Schapanski before sentencing Richard to 90 days behind bars beginning Jan. 11.

Thirty days will be straight jail time and the balance as work release.

He was also slapped with four years of probation, during which time he is not allowed to profit in any way for his ill-intentioned scheme, meaning no book deals or media interviews. He must perform 100 hours of community service a year for the duration of his term, write a letter of apology to community and public agencies and submit to random drug and alcohol testing.

Finally, he must pay full restitution for the state and federal forces marshalled in the rescue effort that wasn't. That amount still needs needs to be determined.

As for Mayumi, who remained silent throughout the hearing, she wound up with 20 days of jail time, which will be served work release. Her term will start after her husband completes his stint, to avoid having both parents away from their three sons at the same time.

She also received a similar probation.

Both parents pleaded guilty last month to various charges, Richard to a felony count of attempting to influence a public servant, and Mayumi to misdemeanor false reporting to authorities.

She copped to the lesser charge in order to avoid the possibility of being convicted of a felony—which could have resulted in her being deported to her native Japan.

Of course, if there were a punishment that fit this crime, Richard and Mayumi Heene would be set adrift for a few hours in a homemade weather balloon—and no media outlet would cover it!

(Originally published Dec. 23, 2009, at 8:35 a.m. PT.)


Refresh yourself on the drama that was Balloongate right here.