The Colorado couple accused of pulling a spectacular hoax by reporting their son was aboard a runaway balloon is avoided more spectacle - and a trial - by entering pleas to charges that could bring some jail time and probation.
Richard and Mayumi Heene appeared in court Friday. Richard pleaded guilty to a felony charge of attempting to influence a public servant and Mayumi to a misdemeanor charge of false reporting.
The pleas are part of an agreement to avoid possible deportation of Mayumi Heene to her native Japan should she be convicted in court of greater charges, David Lane, Heene' lawyer, said. Sentencing was set for Dec. 23.
The agreement would spare the Heenes maximum prison time. Richard Heene could get up to 90 days in jail and Mayumi up to 60, Lane said.
Without the deal, the charge against Richard Heene, 48, carries up to six years in state prison and a fine of up to $500,000. The charge against his 45-year-old wife carries a six-month jail term and a maximum $750 fine.
Mayumi Heene's attorney, Lee Christian, said he expects her to serve any jail time in a work-release program that would involve some detention and some time at home.
Lane said the Heenes' children, ages 6, 8 and 10, will remain in the parents' custody under what he called a "package deal" that was compelling his client to enter a plea. Richard Heene has denied any hoax, though Mayumi Heene allegedly confessed it was a stunt to drum up publicity for the family - and that the boys were told to lie about it all.
"He feels like he's got to do what he's got to do to save his wife from being deported," Lane said of his client.
The court granted Richard Heene's request allowing him to leave the state before his sentencing. Lane said Heene had job opportunities in New York and California.
On Oct. 15, the world watched with astonishment and terror as rescuers chased the homemade balloon for 50 miles after the Heenes reported their 6-year-old son Falcon may have been trapped inside. The balloon landed in a dusty farm field - no Falcon inside - and the Heenes later announced they found the boy hiding at home.
The Larimer County Sheriff's Office pressed its investigation after Falcon looked at his father during CNN interview and declared:
Business associates of Richard Heene said he was trying to pitch a TV series based on science. The Heenes are amateur storm chasers and had twice appeared on the ABC reality show "Wife Swap."
Defense attorneys expect prosecutors to seek restitution for the chase. Local and federal authorities spent at least $62,000 pursuing the balloon and searching for Falcon after it landed.
Lane said he would fight any effort to recoup costs, adding authorities have yet to show the chase diverted from other emergencies.
"A bunch of cops chasing a balloon instead of sitting around is not a restitution case," he said.
The Heenes face a civil investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration. Possible penalties range from a letter of reprimand to a fine. The balloon briefly forced some planes to switch to a different runway for takeoff at Denver International Airport.
Dean Askew, a neighbor who took care of two of the boys at the request of authorities while the balloon saga unfolded, had some harsh words Thursday for Richard Heene.
"I think he took his family down a bad road, and I also think he's a coward because he didn't apologize to America and the people who came to his aid," Askew said.
Of the anticipated plea, Askew declared: "I would hope that's a crack of humanity. But with Richard, you're never really sure."