Balloon boy attorneys challenge restitution amount
Associated Press Writer
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado – Attorneys for the parents who pleaded guilty in the balloon boy hoax said the couple should pay only a small portion of the $48,000 in restitution sought by authorities.
Lawyers for Richard and Mayumi Heene filed a joint motion challenging the amount sought by the Larimer County Sheriff’s office and other agencies that responded to the Oct. 15 event.
Included in the restitution is about $20,000 for efforts the day of the event, $16,000 for two National Guard helicopters and $12,000 spent on the investigation.
The motion filed Friday and first reported by the Coloradoan claims prosecutors have never before sought to recover the costs of an investigation. Richard Heene’s attorney David Lane said the amount makes it appear authorities want to make money on the episode.
Lane and lawyer Lee Christian, who represents Mayumi Heene, have requested a hearing to make their arguments. Lane said they might also meet with prosecutors to work out their differences and submit the results to the court. No court date has been set.
Larimer County district attorney’s spokeswoman Linda Jensen said she could not comment because she had not seen the court filing. Larimer County sheriff’s officials did not immediately return phone calls.
Lane said the Heenes should not have to pay the salaries and wages of officers who chased the balloon or the cost of the investigation, insisting the amount sought amounts to a windfall for authorities.
Overtime amounts need to be closely examined, and the costs of people to handle a rush of media calls shouldn’t be included, he said.
“They don’t get to make money on this case, which is exactly what the sheriff is trying to do,” Lane said. “Pay the cost of police officers acting as police officers? Sorry, that’s not what the law says.”
Richard Heene also faces an $11,000 civil penalty from the Federal Aviation Administration after the balloon episode briefly shut down a runway at Denver International Airport.
Richard Heene pleaded guilty to a felony charge of falsely influencing the sheriff and began serving a 90-sentence on Jan. 11. Mayumi Heene, who pleaded guilty to filing a false report, must serve a 20-day jail term once her husband is out.
Restitution was part of a plea deal, though both sides could not agree on an amount.
In interviews, Richard Heene now maintains his innocence and said that he pleaded guilty to save his wife from deportation.