Mayumi and Richard Heene, two-time Wife Swap contestants and the parents from 2009’s infamous Balloon Boy hoax, have been pardoned this week, along with 20 other people, by Colorado Governor Jared Polis. “In the case of Richard and Mayumi Heene, the ‘balloon boy’ parents, we are all ready to move past the spectacle from a decade ago that wasted the precious time and resources of law enforcement officials and the general public,” the governor’s office said in a statement Wednesday. “Richard and Mayumi have paid the price in the eyes of the public, served their sentences, and it’s time for all of us to move on. It’s time to no longer let a permanent criminal record from the balloon boy saga follow and drag down the parents for the rest of their lives.”
As the nation looked on horror on October 15, 2009, police scrambled to retrieve a giant home-made, helium-filled balloon that escaped over Fort Collins, Colorado, which the Heenes claimed contained their six-year-old son, Falcon. Fortunately, the child was later found hiding in his family’s home, having never been inside the balloon to begin with. Richard and Mayumi were later charged in the incident, which authorities assert was a hoax to draw attention to the family in the pursuit of a reality TV show.
Richard subsequently plead guilty to a felony count of attempting to influence a public servant, while Mayumi plead to a misdemeanor charge, though the couple say they were pressured into pleading guilty, acting out of fear that Mayumi, a Japanese citizen, would be deported. Richard served 90 days in jail, Mayumi served 20, and the family paid $36,000 in restitution.
According to the New York Times, the Heenes had sought the pardon in part to remove Richard’s felony conviction from his record, as it prevented his ability to obtain a general contractor’s license in their current home state of Florida. Richard Heene also told the Times he “planned to apply to appear on the entrepreneurial reality show Shark Tank.”
Despite their convictions, the Heenes have always maintained the “Balloon Boy” incident was a genuine mistake, rather than a hoax, a claim many felt was undermined by their subsequent media appearances to discuss the incident. While interviewing the family on his CNN show, Larry King asked Falcon why he had been hiding in his home while the frantic balloon rescue attempt went on. Said the boy, “You guys said that we did this for the show.”