FORT COLLINS, Colo. (Dec. 23) - The parents who pulled the balloon boy hoax in hopes of landing a reality TV show were sentenced to jail Wednesday - 90 days for him, 20 days for her - and barred from profiting from their newfound celebrity status for the next four years.
Choking back tears, Richard Heene apologized in court for the frenzy he caused when he claimed his 6-year-old son Falcon had floated away in a giant helium balloon shaped like a flying saucer.
"I'm very, very sorry. And I want to apologize to all the rescue workers out there, and the people that got involved in the community," said the 48-year-old Heene, a UFO-obsessed backyard scientist who turned to storm-chasing and reality TV after his Hollywood acting career bombed.
The sentencing was the culmination of a saga that transfixed the nation in October with the sight of the silvery balloon hurtling through the sky on live television. In the end, it was all a publicity stunt by a family broke and desperate for attention and money after networks kept rejecting their reality TV show pitches.
The case - along with the White House party-crashing by a Virginia couple last month - illustrated vividly the lengths people are willing to go to to become TV stars in this 15-minutes-of-fame world.
"What this case is about is deception, exploitation - exploitation of the children of the Heenes, exploitation of the media and exploitation of people's emotions - and money," District Judge Stephen Schapanski said.
Heene's 90-day sentence includes 60 days of work release that will let him pursue his job as a construction contractor during the day as long as he reports back to jail at night. The Heenes were also put on four years' probation, during which they cannot earn any money related to the stunt. That means any book, movie or reality TV deals are off limits.
Richard Heene's wife, Mayumi Heene, 45, looked sullen and did not speak during the sentencing. Afterward, the Heenes walked past a crowd of reporters without comment.
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