FORT COLLINS, COLO. A Colorado couple who reported their son was aboard a runaway balloon could land in jail after pleading guilty Friday to charges they made up the story to generate publicity for a possible reality TV show.
Richard Heene appeared before a Larimer County District Court judge first, pleading guilty to a felony count of falsely influencing the sheriff who led the rescue effort during the 50-mile balloon chase that captivated a global television audience Oct. 15.
Mayumi Heene pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of knowingly filing a false report with emergency services. Prosecutors said she had a lower level of culpability and told investigators the balloon launch was a publicity stunt.
The Heenes are amateur storm chasers and had twice appeared on ABC’s “Wife Swap.” Richard Heene’s business associates said he was trying to pitch a TV series based on science, and the couple had a tentative deal with RDF USA, which produces “Wife Swap.” RDF has said it scrapped the plans.
Even as the Heenes entered their guilty pleas, their attorneys’ comments in court set off speculation of talk show appearances or other deals.
Judge Stephen Schapanski agreed to the attorneys’ request that the couple be allowed to travel to New York and California to explore “employment opportunities.” David Lane, Richard Heene’s lawyer, declined to elaborate as he left the courtroom, and Heene waved off questions.