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Correction to This Article
The article said that the American Civil Liberties Union is representing the family. The article cited the sheriff of Larimer County, Colo., for the information. The ACLU said Monday that neither the national office nor the ACLU of Colorado is representing the family.

Colorado balloon drama was a publicity stunt, sheriff says

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A sheriff says a Colorado couple's report that their 6-year-old son was in a balloon that was hurtling away from their home was a publicity stunt. Sheriff Jim Alderden says Richard and Mayumi Heene "put on a very good show for us."

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By Dan Elliott
Monday, October 19, 2009

FORT COLLINS, COLO. -- The story that a little boy had floated away in a giant balloon was a hoax concocted to land a reality television show, authorities said Sunday, and the boy's parents probably will face felony charges.

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The stunt two weeks in the planning was a marketing ploy by Richard and Mayumi Heene, who met in acting school in Hollywood and have appeared on the ABC reality show "Wife Swap," Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said. The Heenes have reportedly been working on a reality TV deal in Los Angeles.

Falcon Heene, 6, may not have even been hiding in the rafters of his family's garage during the intense five-hour search for him Thursday, Alderden said.

The stunt temporarily shut down Denver International Airport and caused the National Guard to scramble two helicopters in an attempt to rescue the boy, who was believed to be inside the homemade balloon that floated more than 50 miles across two counties.

The drama played out on live television to millions of viewers worldwide. When the balloon landed without Falcon in it, officials began searching for his body.

In fact, the balloon -- which was held together with duct tape -- would not have been able to lift the 37-pound boy, Colorado State University physics professor Brian Jones said.

The Heenes have not been arrested, the sheriff said. He said he expects 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. Federal charges are also possible.

The most serious charges are felonies and carry a maximum sentence of six years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Alderden said restitution for the costs will be sought, though he did not have an estimate. The cost for just the two military helicopters was about $14,500.

Richard Heene told the Associated Press that he is "seeking counsel." Alderden said the American Civil Liberties Union is representing the family, but the organization did not return messages left Sunday.

"This thing has become so convoluted," Heene said as tears welled in his eyes.

The sheriff said that the Heenes' three sons knew about the hoax, but that they probably will not be charged because of their ages. The oldest son is 10.

-- Associated Press


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