- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 18, 2009

BREAKING NEWS, UPDATED:

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — A Colorado sheriff said Sunday it was hoax when parents reported that their 6-year-old son was in a flying-saucer-like helium balloon hurtling away from their home when he actually was hiding in the garage.

Sheriff Jim Alderden said Richard and Mayumi Heene “put on a very good show for us, and we bought it.”

“We believe that we have evidence at this point to indicate that it was a publicity stunt done with the hopes of marketing themselves or better marketing themeslves for a reality television show at some point in the future,” Sheriff Alderden said.

The sheriff said no charges had been filed yet and that the parents weren’t under arrest. He said he expected to recommend charges of conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, making a false report to authorities and attempting to influence a public servant.

Some of the most serious charges each carry a maximum sentence of six years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Sheriff Alderden said all three of the Heenes’ sons knew of the Thursday hoax but likely won’t face charges because of their ages. The oldest son is 10.

Mr. Heene, a storm chaser and inventor, and his family have appeared on the reality show “Wife Swap.”

Sheriff Alderden said interviews with the parents Saturday resulted in enough information to get a warrant to search the house. He said law enforcement officials were looking for computers, e-mails, phone records and financial records.

The sheriff said they discovered the balloon basket was made of a thin piece of plywood and cardboard held together with string and duct tape.

He said the children were still with the parents and child protective services has been contacted to investigate the children’s well-being.

Suspicion that the balloon saga was a hoax arose almost immediately after Falcon was found hiding in the garage.

Sheriff Alderden initially said there was no reason to believe the incident was a hoax. Authorities questioned the Heenes again after Falcon turned to his dad during a CNN interview Thursday night and said what sounded like “you said we did this for a show” when asked why he didn’t come out of his hiding place.

Falcon got sick during two separate TV interviews Friday when asked again why he hid.

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