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    Balloongate Update: FAA Fuels Own Inquiry as Sheriff's Investigation Continues

    Richard Heene, Falcon Heene, Balloon AP Photo/David Zalubowski

    It's a bird, it's a plane... Actually, it's the people who regulate the planes.

    The Federal Aviation Administration has entered the Balloon Boy fray and opened an investigation into whether any airspace rules were violated by Richard Heene's alleged little stunt last week.

    "We don't have any charges, but we are investigating them to see if there are any regulations that have been broken," FAA spokesman Mike Fergus told E! News. "From that point on, we will make a determination if anything further is warranted."

    If so, it still wouldn't be within the FAA's jurisdiction to press criminal charges, which may be the first piece of good news the Heenes have heard since last Thursday.

    "We don't have that kind of authority. If there's some law that has been broken, we would merely inform some other agency," Fergus said, adding that penalties for violating such FAA regulations range from "a letter of reprimand to a monetary fine."

    The Heenes will also be heartened to know that the Justice Department is laying off for now. "The FBI is not going to be conducting an investigation or seeking charges," bureau spokeswoman Cathy Wright exclusively told E! News. "There doesn't appear to be a federal violation."

    The one agency actively targeting the family is the Larimer County Sheriff's Office. In a statement today, the department said it is taking its sweet time before seeking any charges.

    "We do not anticipate completing our reports and presenting this case filing to the district attorney until next week," said department spokeswoman Eloise Campanella.

    Speaking to reporters yesterday, Sheriff Jim Alderden said his investigators were looking at evidence to charge the couple with conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, making a false report to authorities and attempting to influence a public servant. The state will also seek restitution—whether any is collected is another story.

    Denver legal expert Scott Robinson, a friend of the family's attorney, David Lane, said a conviction on such counts could land the couple in jail for up to 12 years with fines in the "hundreds of thousands of dollars."

    "The restitution claims that could be brought are staggering," he said. "An enormous amount of public resources were dedicated to the search for this boy. Even a private citizen's property was trampled in an effort to rescue the young man. They could be looking at literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution."

    The helicopter search alone, which involved two military aircrafts, cost roughly $14,500.

    Which, from the sounds of it, is exactly $14,500 more than the Heenes can afford.

    "Richard doesn't have a lot of money," a source close to the family told E! News. "He lives paycheck to paycheck."

    Then again, this isn't the Balloon Dad's first experience with the justice system.

    According to court documents obtained by E! News, Richard was arrested in Los Angeles County in 1997 on misdemeanor charges of vandalism, vehicle tampering and disturbing the peace. He was arraigned later that month and pleaded no contest to vandalism; the other two counts were dismissed.

    He was ultimately sentenced to four days in jail, though thanks to credit for time served never ended up behind bars. He was then placed on house arrest, got two years' probation and paid $100 in restitution.

    A sheriff's deputy responded to a 911 hang up made from the Heenes' house in February and filed a report stating that, from outside the house, he could hear Richard yelling and that his wife, Mayumi Heene, had broken blood vessels in her eye, which she said were from contact lens trouble. No charges were ever filed.

    ________

    Float away on a gossamer cloud of Balloon Boy news right here.

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