The sheriff investigating the Balloon Boy incident said Sunday it was a "hoax" and a "publicity stunt" the boy's parents hoped to parlay into a reality TV show, and promised that charges would be presented to the local district attorney's office.
TVGuide.com Poll: 91 percent believe balloon drama was hoax
Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said the charges against Richard and Mayumi Heene would include conspiracy, attempting to influence a public servant, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and false reporting to authorities.
Some of the most serious charges each carry a maximum sentence of six years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
In a news conference in Fort Collins, Colo., Alderden said he would ask the Federal Aviation Administration about further charges because the stunt endangered public transportation. There's also the matter of restitution, he said, but the dollar amount for the resources used Thursday to chase down the balloon and search for the boy still must be calculated.
"We were manipulated by the family and the media were manipulated by the family," Alderden said. He cracked up reporters by adding: "On the bizarre meter, this rates a 10."
He said the "a-ha moment" came when the 6-year-old boy, Falcon Heene, said in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer
that he thought "we did this for a show."
"After the fact ... we have since learned that these people are actors," said Alderden, who noted that the couple met in an acting class in Hollywood.
Sheriff Says Balloon Boy's Dad Will Be Charged
The family already has appeared on the reality show Wife Swap
Alderden said his department made its best effort to save the boy when the boy was believed to be in the balloon. He said authorities were told it could carry a 37-pound boy— even though it was held together mainly with duct tape and string.
Alderden told reporters: "It has been determined that this is a hoax, that it was a publicity stunt. We believe that we have evidence at this point to indicate that it was a publicity stunt done with the hopes of marketing themselves or better marketing themselves for a reality television show at some point in the future."
Interviews with the parents Saturday led to his conclusions, Alderden said.
Because of the ages of the children 6, 8 and 10, "I seriously doubt they will be facing any criminal charges," he said.
The Heenes were shopping with their three sons as Alderden held his news conference on the steps of the sheriff's station. Richard Heene said he's "seeking counsel," though it was unclear whether he meant hiring a lawyer.
"This thing has become so convoluted," Heene told The Associated Press as tears welled up in his eyes. He added that his wife was holding it together better than he was.
The event was a comic gift for Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update.
A small replica of the Jiffy Pop-looking balloon floated next to anchor Seth Meyers and tried to talk to him. "Get out of here, balloon ... because you're NOT news," Meyers yelled. Meyers softened when the balloon apologized and said it wasn't his fault: "I'm just a balloon."
VIDEO: Watch SNL's balloon boy gag
"Nobody's blaming you, balloon," Meyers said.
Seemingly relieved, the balloon left by confiding: "Oh, Seth, it was a hoax."
"Yeah, we know," Meyers said.