Thursday, November 12, 2009

Balloon Boy's Dad Pleads Guilty

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - The parents of a Colorado boy thought to have floated away in a homemade helium balloon will plead guilty to criminal charges of staging the incident in a publicity-seeking hoax, their lawyer said on Thursday.

Richard and Mayumi Heene agreed to the plea deal under threat that prosecutors would seek to deport the boy's mother, a Japanese citizen, if she were convicted of more serious charges in the case, defense attorney David Lane said.

Mayumi Heene will plead guilty on Friday to a misdemeanor charge of false reporting to authorities, while her husband will enter a guilty plea to a felony charge of attempting to influence a public servant, Lane said in a statement.

The Heenes drew worldwide attention on October 15 when they reported that their 6-year-old son, Falcon, had accidentally sailed away in a silver, saucer-shaped helium balloon.

The odd-looking airship drifted over Colorado for 50 miles, trailed by National Guard helicopters as authorities mounted a search operation that riveted television viewers.

The balloon later landed empty near Denver International Airport and the boy turned up safe in the family attic. Public sympathy turned to outrage when the Heenes' account of the incident began to unravel.

A criminal investigation was launched and court documents revealed the mother admitted the incident was a publicity stunt aimed at making the family marketable for a reality TV show.

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