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Lawyer: Ex-'Wife Swap' family to plead guilty to alleged balloon hoax

By Christopher Rocchio, 11/12/2009 

Richard and Mayumi Heene will reportedly plead guilty to some charges stemming from an incident last month in which they claimed their 6-year-old son floated away in a homemade helium balloon.

The former Wife Swap stars will plead guilty in the hopes of avoiding jail time to instead only serve probation for the incident, which law enforcement officials have alleged was "a hoax" and "publicity stunt" done in an attempt to land the family their own reality TV show, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

Richard will plead guilty to attempting to influence a public servant, a felony, while Mayumi will plead guilty to false reporting to authorities, a misdemeanor, family attorney David Lane told The AP.

Prosecutors have yet to announce if they've filed charges and Larimer County Sheriff spokeswoman Eloise Campanella added her office hasn't been notified if charges have been filed, The AP reported.

Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden has previously stated Richard and Mayumi were under investigation on suspicion of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, trying to influence a public official and providing false information to authorities and would face up to six years in prison and a fine of as much as $500,000 on each of two felony counts.

In addition, Mayumi -- a Japanese citizen -- could have been deported if convicted of more serious charges.

"Upon reviewing the evidence, arguably, Mayumi could have possibly ended up being deported and Richard could have proceeded to trial and had a good chance at an acquittal," Lane said in a statement obtained by The AP.

"This, however, would have put the family at grave risk of seeing a loving, caring, compassionate wife and mother ripped from the family and deported. That was not an acceptable risk, thus these pleas."

The Heene family captured the nation's attention last month when Richard and Mayumi claimed a homemade helium balloon accidentally lifted off while their 6-year-old son Falcon was inside one of its compartments.

However when the balloon touched down after a 50-mile, two-hour trip Falcon was nowhere to be found and his parents later claimed he was hiding in the rafters at his family's garage after being scolded by Richard for playing near the balloon.

While Richard denied the publicity stunt when questioned by authorities without his wife, Mayumi admitted the incident was a hoax in a search warrant affidavit.

But Lane said Mayumi's statements likely couldn't have been used against Richard because of marital privilege, which can keep a person's spouse from testifying against him or her.

"Unfortunately, the prosecutors insisted upon a package deal where Richard would have to fall on his sword and take a felony plea despite the fact that he made no incriminating statements to law enforcement and Mayumi's statements could not be used against him," Lane told The AP.

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