Balloon Boy Busted!

Criminal charges will be made in Thursday's media frenzy after sheriffs determine the entire event was a media hoax

By Whitney English, Megan Masters Oct 19, 2009 2:01 AMTags
Richard Heene, Falcon Heene, BalloonAP Photo/David Zalubowski

Little Falcon Heene might be flying high (or not), but Balloon Boy's parents are in big trouble.

Criminal charges are on the way for the "storm-chasing" Richard and Mayumi Heene, Larimer County Sheriff James Alderden stated during a Sunday morning press conference.

"The hoax [was] a planned event for at least two weeks to launch this spacecraft in order to gain media publicity," said Alderden. "To create a situation where it appeared Falcon was in the craft and his life was in danger with an ultimate goal of...obtaining a contract to do a reality show."

The charges will include filing a false report, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, attempting to influence a public servant and conspiracy, and could result in a maximum sentence of six years in prison and a $500,000 fine including restitution for all of the expenses the country incurred.

(How about adding successfully fooling an entire nation into caring to the list? Admit it—you feel as duped as we do!)

No arrests have been made, but the investigation is ramping up.

"We have a lot of work to do. We have to identify coconspirators, a lot of records to go through," said Alderden. "Until we do that, we can't submit a case to the district attorney's office. I cannot estimate how long that will take."

The Heenes, meanwhile, remain under a watchful eye.

"They are free to do what they will. They are a flight risk, but felony warrants will follow them wherever they go," Alderden vowed.

The sheriff discussed the present demeanor of Ma and Pa Heene, noting that they have been surprisingly cooperative, but unapologetic. "There was no evidence of any remorse," says Alderden.

However, he did make an apology of his own—to the media.

"We did not want to mislead the media," Alderden said of his investigation. "We were manipulated."

Investigators actually began to doubt the veracity of the family's story after Falcon's CNN slip-up, but didn't want to tip their hand. In fact, Richard and Mayumi were interrogated separately and both given polygraph tests.

Alderden also said his team carefully examined the balloon and confirmed it could not support the weight of a small boy.

And what about that attic-dwelling 6-year-old who burst the whole balloon bubble?

Don't worry, the kids won't do any hard time. "The children were 100 percent involved and had guilty knowledge," said Alderden. "Given the age of the children, I seriously doubt they will face any criminal charges."

Child protective services have been notified about the Heene's situation and will be conducting their own investigation into the high-flying fam to determine if the parents are fit to raise the three children.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice says the FBI has not yet been contacted.

And so we wait, watching the saga play out better than anything on reality TV.

(Originally published Oct. 18, 2009, at 12:03 p.m. PT)


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