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Attorney for balloon boy dad challenges restitution amount

FORT COLLINS - Ever wonder what the going rate is for two helicopters to perform search and rescue duties for about four hours? How about $16,009.31?

The Heenes have pleaded guilty to perpetrating a hoax when they claimed their 7-year-old son Falcon was inside a runaway helium balloon last October. Recently, Richard Heene has claimed it was not a hoax and he was forced to plead guilty. He began serving his jail sentence earlier this week.It's possible the Heenes will owe more money once the crops come up at Abbot Farms, home to the land where the infamous balloon finally landed near Denver International Airport. An early estimate places crop damages at $8,500, but prosecutors are waiting to seek the final amount until an exact figure can be calculated. It's also possible the Heenes will pay a significantly lower amount if Richard Heene's attorney David Lane can successfully convince Judge Stephen Schapanski that prosecutors and law enforcement are overcompensating. Lane has until Jan. 25 to file court documents challenging the restitution amount, which he called "ridiculously high." "They don't have to pay rescuers for doing their job," Lane said. "This is cops getting paid to be cops whether they're sitting around doing nothing or tracking a balloon." A breakdown of the numbers indicates prosecutors are seeking $36,016.53 for search-and-rescue costs and $11,792.51 for the ensuing criminal investigation. About half, or $23,767.69, of the total proposed restitution figure is for hours worked by search-and-rescue teams and investigators who were already on duty and did not work overtime hours. Lane said his client, or any defendant, should not have to pay for the routine costs to investigate and prosecute. "Do you think Tim Masters should be required to pay the restitution for the thousands of cop hours spent prosecuting him?" Lane said referring to the Masters case, well known in Larimer County for the conviction of a man a judge said was wrongly imprisoned for 10 years. Of the nearly $12,000 spent to investigate the case, $4,927.92 went to Bob Heffernan and Ian Stewart, the two investigators who logged the most overtime hours. Lane said the only fair thing to do is to charge his clients only for costs that would be above what law enforcement and rescuers would normally be expending. Prosecutors are also seeking a combined $2,042.30 for compensation to public information officers, some of whom were called in to help with the hundreds of phone calls from the media and public after speculation surfaced of the possibility of a hoax. Larimer County Sheriff's Office spokeswomen Eloise Campanella and Kathleen Messick worked 30.5 already-on-duty hours, costing the county $1,022.64. PIOs from Poudre Fire Authority and the U.S. Forest Service were also called in to assist with media calls, which added $1,019.66 to the bill. "That's their choice. They didn't have to do that," Lane said referring to the extra PIO charges. "The Heenes should not be paying for choices that the publicity-seeking sheriff has made in order to further enhance his public image." Click here to view the complete court Restitution Order. This story written by Nate Taylor, Fort Collins Coloradoan. />

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