Charges Still Pending In 'Balloon Boy' Case

Prosecutors and sheriff's investigators still are considering what charges could be filed against the Colorado parents suspected of making a false report that their 6-year-old was inside a runaway helium balloon.

"We have not been presented with the case yet," Linda Jensen, spokeswoman for the Larimer County, Colo., district attorney, told NPR on Monday.

Sheriff Jim Alderden said he's pursuing charges against Richard and Mayumi Heene for falsely reporting that their son was inside a balloon that floated away from the family home. The report sparked a frantic search for the boy that involved two National Guard helicopters.

David Lane, the lawyer representing the Heenes, said Monday that he expects charges to be filed by Wednesday. He said the couple are willing to turn themselves in.

Alderden said the event was a publicity stunt aimed at bolstering attempts by the parents to land starring roles for their family in a reality television show. The family, which has numerous videos on YouTube, appeared twice on the ABC reality show Wife Swap.

"There is absolutely no doubt in our minds this was a hoax. It was a publicity stunt done with hopes of better maneuvering themselves for a reality TV show," Alderden said at a Sunday afternoon news conference.

Alderden said he may recommend charges of conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, making a false report to authorities and attempting to influence a public servant. He also said he would ask the Heenes to foot the bill for the search.

The couple's three boys — Falcon, 6; Ryo, 8; and Bradford, 10 — were involved in the alleged plot, Alderden said, but they probably won't be charged.

The alleged stunt caused authorities to briefly close Denver International Airport, as officials and television cameras tracked the balloon's flight by air and on the ground while TV viewers watched events unfold live.

Falcon Heene was reported to be missing for several hours on Thursday after his older brother said the boy crawled into the family's homemade balloon and drifted away.

The balloon traveled more than 50 miles from the family home in Fort Collins, Colo., before coming to rest in a freshly plowed field in nearby Weld County. When searchers saw that the boy was not in the balloon, they became concerned that he might have fallen out, and they began a ground search.

Later, Falcon appeared at the family home and said he had been hiding in a crawl space above the garage because his father yelled at him. But during a late-night interview, Falcon said on CNN's Larry King Live that he was hiding "for the show."

Initially, Alderden said the parents were sincere when they reported their son missing, but on Sunday the sheriff said he misled the public so that the Heenes would let their guard down.

Investigators questioned the family again on Saturday, and they're also looking to question a man who claims to have been a onetime business partner of Richard Heene.

On the Web site Gawker.com, 25-year-old researcher Robert Thomas said Heene had told him he was planning a media stunt to promote a proposed reality show. Thomas, who was paid for the Web interview, said the show would carry out various scientific experiments.

The Web site includes a link to what Thomas purports to be Heene's proposal for the show, as well as several e-mails between himself and the family.

"How much do you want to bet we could facilitate some sort of a media stunt that would be equally profound as Roswell, and we could do so with nothing more than a weather balloon and some controversy?" Thomas quotes Richard Heene as saying.

From NPR staff and wire service reports

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