By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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Also in 2008, the family appeared on the TV show Wife Swap, where the mothers from two very different families trade places for a week. The Heenes were voted back to appear on the show a second time, unheard of in the annals of Wife Swap.
At one point during filming, Mayumi picked up a guitar and played it. It was then that Bradford thought, "Cool! I want a guitar!"
In the hours after Richard Heene's contraption floated into the sky, the Denver airport was shut down. The National Guard was dispatched with Black Hawks. Television cameras followed the device as it drifted at 7,000 feet, 50 miles across the sky. Viewers, terrified for Falcon, wondered whether they were about to see a 6-year-old plummet to his death.
News crews gathered outside the Heene house as headlines blew up around the world. And then little Falcon emerged safe and sound from the attic, where he had been hiding all along.
The next day, the Heene family agreed to be interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN. Mayumi and Richard looked exhausted, the three boys wedged between them. They insisted they thought Falcon had flown away.
Blitzer: Did he hear you screaming out, "Falcon, Falcon?"
Richard, to Falcon: He's asking, Falcon, did you hear us calling your name at any time?
Richard: You did?
Mayumi: You did?
Richard: Why didn't you come out?
Falcon: You guys said that, um, we did this for a show.
After the couple pleaded guilty, Larimer County Court Judge Stephen Schapanski sentenced Richard to 90 days of jail and four years' probation. He stipulated the couple could not profit from the incident during that time. "Mr. Heene is in fact prohibited from receiving any form of financial benefit — whether it be media, a book, an article he writes — anything of that kind that stems from this incident," the judge declared.
He summarized, "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."
But on January 7, 2010, Richard went on CNN's Larry King Live and said the only reason he pleaded guilty was that he was afraid Mayumi would be deported. Falcon's comment, he added, came because "a Japanese cameraman holding a giant camera asked him to show him how he got into the attic for his TV show. That's why Falcon answered that."
When Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden heard that Heene was maintaining his innocence, he told CNN: "Quite honestly, I'm shocked that he would make such statements. The evidence against Mr. Heene and Mayumi at this point is very overwhelming."
Today, Richard continues to insist he truly believed Falcon was up in the contraption. And "I was completely insulted that anyone ever called it 'Balloon Boy.' It's a real flying saucer!"
Later in 2010, the Heenes moved to Spring Hill, where the foreclosure crisis had hit hard, but rental houses were cheap. In the warm climate, there'd be more potential for Richard to do contracting jobs year-round, the couple thought, and the family could escape some of their infamy.
The aftermath had been brutal. The family became the laughingstock of the nation. Commenters speculated that Richard was a sociopath, Mayumi an abused wife. Former associates emerged to sell negative stories about them to the media. Colorado's Child Protective Services investigated the Heenes' fitness to be parents, but ultimately left the family intact. RDF Media, which had been working with the family to develop a reality show, cut ties.
Richard, who was working at the time as a contractor, remembers, "One woman wrote to me and said, 'Don't bother showing up at the job site.'" Other people "claimed to be fans of mine," he remembers. "Do you have head shots and an autograph?" He says he thought those callers were weirdos.
Ultimately, Richard says, "I don't study the negatives. Gotta focus on the positives. And the positives are: We became a much stronger family."
He has since embraced his calling as an inventor and built a "Heene Duty Truck Transformer," a motor-powered, remote-controlled contraption that converts into a toolbox, scaffolding, a lumber carrier, a portable loading dock, a dolly, and a picnic table. He licensed it to a Tampa-area company called AME International, which manufactures truck tools, but that deal — like many other things in his life — fell through.
In a video he made to promote the product, Heene jumps all over his truck like a madman, and at one point Mayumi leaps into his arms to give him a kiss before running off.
On a wall in their house is a sign: "We INTEND to build HEENE DUTY and INTEND to sell HEENE DUTY to have a full bank account." Taped underneath it is a dollar bill.
Heene says he requested clarification from the courts about what constituted profiting off the balloon incident. Was he allowed use of his name on fliers for his businesses? "What they said was that I can't get paid for interviews, and I can't put balloons on fliers." He rolls his eyes.