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Colo. law could prevent Heenes from making profit off 'hoax'

10:39 AM, Oct 20, 2009   |    comments
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Richard and Mayumi Heene are accused of faking their 6-year-old son's disappearance Thursday, triggering a massive rescue effort.

State law bars convicted criminals from profiting from their criminal actions. Money they make must be set aside for possible restitution.

The Heenes, who have appeared on ABC TV's "Wife Swap," wanted publicity so they could land a reality TV show, Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said.

A court can order offenders to pay restitution to victims or the government, said Pete Maguire, a former prosecutor in neighboring Boulder County who is now in private practice. The courts can put liens on houses and garnish wages to collect unpaid restitution, he said.

"You can make them come in and empty out their pockets and show how much money they've got," Maguire said. "You can basically stay on them forever."

Robbie Vorhaus, a crisis and reputation consultant, said he "definitely" expects the Heenes to pop up on TV someday even if they are convicted.

"This kid didn't even go up in the balloon, but we're still calling him 'balloon boy,' " he said.

People like stories that keep them guessing and wondering, he said, much like the story the Heenes concocted about their son Falcon's disappearance. "Why do movies continue to captivate us? It's an escape mechanism," he said. "This man was able to create an escape mechanism that everybody in the media bought into."

Vorhaus pointed out that ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich continues to get national attention in the face of criminal charges. Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

The former governor's memoir came out last month, and he has a spot on Donald Trump's "The Celebrity Apprentice" reality show, scheduled to air in March. On Monday, prosecutors told a federal judge they want Blagojevich to agree to limit what he says about his case on the show. The trial is scheduled to start in June.

TV production company RDF Media had a show in development with the Heenes, it said in a written statement, but "we are no longer in active development with the family."

JD Roth, CEO of 3. Ball Productions, which produces NBC's "The Biggest Loser," said he "wouldn't get near" a reality show with the Heenes because they have lost the public's trust.

Successful reality shows require authenticity from their characters, he said. On "The Biggest Loser," "If I really didn't have overweight people who wanted to change their lives, then the show wouldn't work."

Without truth, audiences won't go along, Roth said. The Heenes' story "has gone so far in the wrong direction that now, whatever he does, he's the boy who cried wolf," he said of Richard Heene. "How could you ever trust his story on television?"

Alderden said he will recommend next week the district attorney file four charges against the couple, including conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, attempting to influence a public servant and making a false report.

Alderden said Monday on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" he doesn't believe the couple would face jail time if convicted but probably would get fined.

Investigators are still trying to estimate costs of the emergency response, which followed the balloon 50 miles across three counties before it landed in a field without Falcon aboard. When he was found, the boy said he had been hiding in the attic.

Alderden said he will seek restitution for the cost.

Alderden said the search consumed about 650 staff and volunteer hours plus resources from other agencies.

"If we seek restitution in this, we will present to the court what all of the costs are," Alderden said. "I don't think there's much to recover at this point, unless they are successful in their endeavors to somehow garner some money out of this."

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