Authorities: "Balloon Boy" saga a hoax concocted to land reality show
By Christopher Rocchio, 10/19/2009
The Heene family is accused of concocting the story of their son floating away in a homemade helium balloon to boost their attempts to land their own reality show.
Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden characterized the incident as a marketing ploy planned by Richard and Mayumi Heene, whose family has twice appeared on ABC's Wife Swap and was recently working on a deal for a new reality television show of their own, The Denver Postreported.
"It has been a hoax," said Alderden during a Sunday morning news conference, according to The Post. "It was a publicity stunt done with hopes of better maneuvering themselves for a reality TV show."
Richard and Mayumi are currently under investigation on suspicion of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, trying to influence a public official and providing false information to authorities, said Alderden at the news conference, adding they face up to six years in prison and a fine of as much as $500,000 on each of two felony counts.
In addition, investigators are trying to determine if the family had an co-conspirators -- including employees of reality television shows, The Post reported.
"[We're also examining] the possibility that even some of the media outlets may have had some knowledge about this," Alderden said during the news conference, The Associated Press reported.
Falcon Heene -- the son of Richard and Mayumi -- was feared to be inside a compartment in homemade helium balloon when it floated away from the family's Fort Collin, CO yard on Thursday morning, igniting a two-hour scramble to recover it before any harm was done to the boy,
However when the balloon subsequently landed in a field after traveling 50 miles, Falcon was nowhere to be found.
His parents subsequently stated Falcon was hiding in the rafters at his family's garage after being scolded by Richard for playing near the balloon, but deputies twice searched the home and didn't find the boy.
"For all we know he may have been two blocks down the road playing on the swing in the city park," said Alderden during the news conference, according to The AP.
While Alderden told reporters that his office initially believed Falcon's life was in danger and was even searching for his body at one point, numerous inconsistencies were eventually brought to his attention regarding Richard and Mayumi's story.
"Needless to say they put on a very good show for us and we bought it," said Alderden at the news conference, according to The Post.
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"It became very evident to us they were lying."
Due to the extensiveness of the search, Alderden added his office could seek restitution for the costs associated with the efforts made by law enforcement officials, according to The Post.
In addition, Alderden said his office has asked child protection officials to investigate whether Falcon and his brothers -- 8-year-old Ryo and 10-year-old Bradford -- are in danger, and also asked Mayumi if she wanted to go to a safe house. She declined.
"We talked to her at length about domestic violence, about her safety, about her children's safety," said Alderden, according to The AP. "We have a concern, but we didn't have enough that would allow us or child protective services to physically take the kids from that environment."
The Heene family first appeared on a Wife Swap episode last fall and were subsequently cast for its 100th episode as one of two families that won an abc.com poll which asked viewers to vote for two former Wife Swap families they'd liked to see appear on the show again.
ABC had previously billed the family as "storm chasers."
Wife Swap's RDF Media production company has acknowledged it had been developing a reality show with the family but has stated the project was no longer in active development.
"At one point in time, we had a show in development with the Heenes," RDF Media spokeswoman Brooke Fisher told The Post. "We are no longer in active development with the family."
TLC has also confirmed the Heenes had previously approached the network about a reality show.
"They did approach us months ago to do a show, and we passed," TLC spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg told The Post.