Criminal Justice

'Balloon Boy' Parents to Be Charged in Alleged Hoax Promoting Reality TV Show


The sheriff of Larimer County, Colo., says he plans to file felony and misdemeanor charges against the parents of a 6-year-old boy who made international headlines last week after he was incorrectly reported to be thousands of feet in the air in an experimental helium balloon built by his father that had accidentally launched.

In fact, Sheriff Jim Alderden now says, the parents conspired together to perpetrate the hoax, which was intended to promote their potential television reality program, according to the Associated Press and the Denver Post.

Richard Heene, 48, and Mayumi Heene, 45, could also be asked to reimburse the government for the cost of a massive rescue effort involving officials from three counties.

Alderden says all three of the couple’s sons, who are 6, 8 and 10, were also involved in the hoax, which had been planned for months, according to e-mails, the AP reports. However, they are unlikely to be charged because of their age, the sheriff says. Authorities are also investigating whether any media company had a role in the hoax.

“On the bizarre meter, this rates a 10,” the sheriff says.

Richard and Mayumi Heene met at a California acting school and have previously appeared in the CBS Wife Swap program. Alderden says he expects to recommend that they be charged with conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, making a false report to authorities and attempting to influence a public servant, the AP reports.

If convicted, they face maximum penalties of six years in prison and a $500,000 fine on each of two felony counts.

Their lawyer says he expects the Heenes to be charged by Wednesday but says they are innocent until proven guilty.

Sheriff’s deputies requested late last week that child protective services investigate the family to ensure that the boys are safe, the news agency says.

Additional coverage:

Crimesider (CBS News): “Balloon Boy Dad Richard Heene Thinks World Will End in 2012; Will He Be Out of Jail by Then?”

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