DENVER | Richard Heene instructed his children to lie to police and involved them in possible felony criminal behavior as part of last week's "balloon-boy" hoax, law enforcement authorities say.
It's unlikely, however, that Mr. Heene and his wife, Mayumi, will lose custody of the children, based on what legal experts say is known publicly about the case.
"I doubt their parental rights would be terminated on these charges alone," said Denver defense attorney Scott Robinson, who is not involved in the case.
Larimer County Child Protection Services began an investigation into the welfare of the three Heene boys over the weekend after Thursday's balloon-boy episode, said county Sheriff Jim Alderden.
The probe came after Sheriff Alderden concluded that the Heenes deliberately had released a 20-foot homemade helium balloon and then told authorities that their 6-year-old son, Falcon, was on board in an attempt to secure a reality-television show.
Sheriff Alderden said all three boys - 10-year-old Bradford, 8-year-old Ryo and Falcon - were in on the hoax and had been told by their parents to lie to authorities. The plan began to fall apart after Falcon said on CNN "You said it was for the show."
The sheriff's office plans to recommend criminal charges after the completion of its investigation, which could come next week. The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed Tuesday that it had opened an investigation into the incident, which caused Denver International Airport to divert flights to alternative runways to avoid the balloon's path.
David Lane, a Denver lawyer representing the Heenes, has denied that the incident was a hoax.
The child-welfare probe is expected to focus on determining whether the Heene children were abused, neglected or otherwise ill-treated. The department has the authority to remove the boys from the home temporarily.
Child-welfare experts say the Heenes failed to act in the best interests of their children if they told them to lie and subsequently had them appear Thursday and Friday on several television shows.
"There's a concern as to whether they put this effort above the welfare of the children," said Linda Spears, vice president of policy and public affairs at the Child Welfare League of America.
She also said authorities would have to consider whether the parents might retaliate against Falcon for what could be perceived as his inadvertent televised confession.
"Is this child at any risk for blowing the parents' cover?" Ms. Spears said.
Sheriff Alderden has said that Mr. Heene has "a temper" and a deputy who responded Feb. 8 to a 911 hang-up call at the house said Mrs. Heene had a red mark on her left cheek under her eye. She told him that she had trouble with a contact lens, and that "nothing happened," according to the incident report.
"This is such a unique case," Mr. Robinson said. "It's hard to figure out what human services is going to do."