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'Balloon Boy' parents enter guilty pleas

VIEW SLIDESHOW LARIMER COUNTY - Chief Judge Stephan Schapanski questioned Richard and Mayumi Heene separately prior to officially accepting their guilty pleas to charges relating to a balloon hoax involving their son.Timeline: Key events in the 'Balloon Boy' saga- Balloon boy sheriff lashes out at defense lawyer

<"on or="" about="" october="" 15,="" 2009="" you="" attempted="" to="" influence="" james="" alderden="" with="" intent="" to="" deceit="" to="" influence="" his="" decision.="" intent="" is="" in="" that="" charge,="" do="" you="" understand="" that="" charge?"="" schapanski="" questioned.="">

"Yes," Heene responded.

Heene's felony charge stems from the balloon hoax involving his son, Falcon Heene, dubbed "Balloon Boy" in the extensive coverage that followed the incident.

Heene surrendered to the Larimer County Detention Center Thursday. He was booked and released on a $5,000 bond.

Following his guilty plea Friday morning, Heene could face two to six years in the Department of Corrections and a fine of up to $500,000 for his felony charge.

Heene's wife, Mayumi Heene, was also in court Friday and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of false reporting to authorities, with a stipulated sentence to probation. She could face six months in county jail and a fine of up to $750.

"Is your decision voluntary? Is it your decision to plead guilty?" Schapanski asked Mayumi Heene.

"Yes," she responded.

The Heene's attorney, David Lane, said in a statement Thursday that the couple planned to plead guilty as part of a deal to avoid deportation to Japan for Mayumi. Schapanski was thorough with his question of the Heenes. He wanted to ensure that both Richard Heene and Mayumi Heene understood every aspect of their guilty pleas and what could come of them.

For example, as part of the plea deal the Heenes take on the possibility of restitution and the jail time.

Schapanski stopped short of guaranteeing that Mayumi Heene would not face immigration issues in the future in relation to the case.  It was not answer the Heenes wanted to hear but, since the issue of deportation is ultimately not up to a Larimer County judge, Schpanski said he simply has no control over that.

Lane, who had previously said authorities insisted that Richard Heene "fall on his sword" and take a felony plea, said Friday he would have taken Richard Heene to trial if he had it his way.

"Richard had a good triable case, if you take out Mayumi's statements, there's not evidence as to he knew or did not know whether Falcon was or was not in the balloon," Lane said in court Friday. "He made no statements to law enforcement one way or the other and Mayumi, being Mayumi, was agreeing with law enforcement through the statements.

"I don't know if they released their tape to the media or not, but you know it's a lot of leading and, 'This will be helpful to you, make a statement.' But what you're all left with is they walked in a courtroom and plead guilty," he added.

The Heene family drew international attention Oct. 15 when Richard and Mayumi Heene called 911 to report Falcon had floated away from their home in a UFO-shaped helium balloon. Millions watched as the balloon's flight was televised live, but Falcon wasn't aboard when it landed near Denver International Airport . A few hours later, the boy emerged at the family home, besieged by reporters. Falcon said he had been hiding in the garage all along. Sheriff's investigators said the family staged a hoax to boost their prospects in reality television. In the statement, Lane said Mayumi Heene is a citizen of Japan, so a felony conviction would result in her deportation. Mayumi Heene confessed, according to sheriff's investigators. However, under the law, her statements could not be used against Richard Heene, Lane said, setting up the possibility she would have been convicted and deported, while Richard Heene may have been acquitted. "It is supremely ironic that law enforcement has expressed such grave concern for the welfare of the children, but it was ultimately the threat of taking the children's mother from the family and deporting her to Japan which fueled this deal," the statement said. Lane noted in the statement that Richard Heene could be sentenced to 90 days in jail, and Mayumi, 60 days.

Both Mayumi and Richard Heene will return to court on Dec. 23 for sentencing.

Until then, the judge granted the Heenes' request to travel to New York and California for employment opportunities. Details about the opportunities were not disclosed. When Lane was asked if the opportunities were to meet with major media outlets, he said he could not comment on the private lives of the Heenes.

Richard Heene's mother told reporters in Florida her son is a family man, an inventor and an expressive person. She said on Friday that despite what has been said, she believes the balloon incident was not a publicity stunt.

"I just feel that he's being pressured into taking that plea of guilty to save his wife from being deported. And we know that is a real threat," Rae Sprow, Richard Heene's mother, said.

Sprow says if her son and daughter-in-law end up going to jail, she's ready to step in and help take care of her grandchildren. />

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