Balloon boy charges may not come until next week

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."
The Associated Press
Monday, October 19, 2009; 9:29 PM

FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- Investigators pored over e-mails, phone records and financial documents from the home of Richard Heene on Monday as they weighed felony charges and sought to determine who else might have helped the alleged balloon-boy hoax get off the ground.

The sheriff's office said its findings will be forwarded to prosecutors next week to decide if Richard and Mayumi Heene should be charged with falsely reporting that their 6-year-old son had drifted away in a large home-built helium balloon to drum up publicity for a reality TV show.

But the investigation could reach beyond the Heenes, possibly into the world of reality-show promotions.

Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said documents show that a media outlet had agreed to pay the Heenes. Alderden did not name the organization but said it was in an industry that blurs "the line between entertainment and news."

It was not clear whether the deal was signed before or after the alleged hoax, or whether the media outlet was a possible conspirator. If so, the organization could face charges as well.

The Heenes are amateur storm chasers who apparently wanted to star in a reality show that focused on a range of absurd experiments, such as attracting UFOs with a weather balloon and conducting an electromagnetic analysis of a terminally ill patient's spirit before death.

Robert Thomas, a collaborator who worked with Richard Heene on the idea, provided an e-mail to the Web site outlining his plan for the show. The sheriff's department questioned Thomas on Sunday after he revealed that Heene was planning a media stunt to promote the show, according to the researcher's lawyer, Linda Lee.

Thomas' notes include Heene discussing a hoax - which Thomas opposed - that involved a hot air balloon, Lee said.

"Pretty much he wanted to recreate this Roswell effect making it seem like there's a UFO," Lee said.

"Heene believes the world is going to end in 2012," she said. "Because of that, he wanted to make money quickly, become rich enough to build a bunker or something underground, where he can be safe from the sun exploding."

Lee said her client worked with Heene from March until May.

Thomas told investigators what he observed about the couple and "intimate details about their home life," Lee said. "He noticed things that were definitely not right. ... Some of the things are kind of shocking that Mr. Heene did, but we're not going to discuss specifics," Lee said.

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