Oct. 19, 2009 — -- The legal fate of Richard Heene will remain up in the air longer than the runaway balloon that he frantically claimed last week had carried off his son in what police now say was an elaborate hoax.
Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said over the weekend he was preparing to bring charges against Heene and his wife, Mayumi, but Larimer County put out a statement to waiting reporters today suggesting they go home.
"We know many of you are remaining in the area in anticipation of the arrest of the Heenes. In deference to your schedules, we want you to know that we do not anticipate completing our reports and presenting this case filing to the district attorney until next week."
Alderden originally said his investigators had no reason to believe the family was lying but shifted 180 degrees Sunday and called the incident both a hoax and a publicity stunt to gin up buzz for a reality show the family hoped to produce.
"We have evidence at this point to indicate that this was a publicity stunt, done with the hope of marketing themselves for a reality show at some point in the future," he said. "On the bizarre meter, this rates a 10."
Alderden added that police believed the family may have conspired with a media outlet to launch the balloon.
A lawyer for the couple, who met in acting school and twice appeared on the ABC reality show "Wife Swap," said today that while his clients are preparing for arrest, he's ready to take on the sheriff's office.
"If they step over any lines, it is my job to slap them down," Heene family attorney David Lane told "Good Morning America" today. "I have no idea what so-called evidence they have."
Lane said he's hoping authorities will abide by an agreement to allow the Heenes to turn themselves in rather than be led away in handcuffs in front of their three sons.
Lane said he had not been told by law enforcement officials whether the Heenes had passed or failed a polygraph test administered by the sheriff's office over the weekend.
"If that's what they're relying on, they're in trouble," he said, noting that polygraph results are not admissible in court.
Lane said he'd also like to examine the timeline of phone calls from Richard and Mayumi Heene after police claimed they called the Federal Aviation Administration, then a local television station and then 911 when they told authorities they thought son Falcon, 6, was inside the homemade balloon.
It was Falcon -- the boy at the center of the saga -- who tipped off authorities that the family had planned the entire incident when he told Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "Larry King Live" Thursday that "we did it for the show."
When questioned about his statements, Falcon vomited during two interviews the next morning on "Good Morning America" and the "Today" show.
Alderden said the couple may have executed the hoax with the aid of a media outlet.
"We certainly know that there's a conspiracy between the husband and wife, you've probably seen some of the e-mails and some of the things on the Internet suggesting that there may be other conspirators," Alderden said.
Alderden said police had obtained documents that suggested that a media outlet agreed to pay money to the Heenes with regard to the balloon incident.
Alderden did not name the show but said it blurs "the line between entertainment and news."
"Let's call it (my statement) short of speculation that a media outlet was in on the hoax, but let's not discount the possibility," he said.
Lane, the family attorney, said the sheriff's reversal "tells me there may be some ambiguity in their evidence but, again, the evidence is going to speak for itself. Whatever they've got, they've got and they have to give it to me."
Sheriff: 'We Were Manipulated by the Family'
The producers of "Wife Swap" said they had "at one point" been in talks with the family to develop a new reality show about them
"At one point in time, we had a show in development with the Heene's. We are no longer in active development with the family. Like everyone else in America, we were stunned and held our breath while the events of [Thursday] unfolded, and like everyone else, we are extremely thankful for the fact that Falcon is safe with his family," Brooke Fisher, spokeswoman from prduction company RDF USA, said in a statement.
Alderden announced four potential charges against Richard Heene and possibly his wife. The charges include conspiracy, a felony; contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a felony; attempting to influence a public servant, a felony; and false reporting to authorities, a misdemeanor.
In addition, he said local authorities would consult with the FAA to determine whether federal charges could be added to the list.
"This has been a planned event for at least two weeks," Alderden said, referring to the false emergency created when the Heenes called police Thursday to say their son Falcon was missing and they feared he was in the runaway balloon. "The plan was to launch a spacecraft to garner media publicity."
"We were manipulated by the family, and the media has been manipulated by the family," Alderden said.
The helium balloon that Heene said was carrying his son traveled out of control for about 50 miles, reaching altitudes of 7,000 feet.
Alderden said the police had few interactions with the Heenes but that a previous 911 call from the Heene home raised suspicions of potential domestic violence.
In that case, "insufficient evidence" was found "to proceed with a criminal prosecution," Alderden said.
Lane, the family attorney, said he has met with Falcon and his two older brothers and that they do not seem to be abused.
"These are, by all appearance, well-loved, well-taken care of, well-adjusted ... little boys," he said.
Child Protective Services is also now reportedly involved with the family.
"I think unless they have good solid evidence of some sort of child abuse, these children need to stay with parents who love them," Lane said.
Richard Heene 'May Be Nutty But He's Not a Professor'
The sheriff said the perception that Heene is a scientist was unfounded.
"We now know that his education level is only high school," the sheriff said. "He's not the nutty professor. He may be nutty, but he's not a professor."
Alderden said the police had no reason to disbelieve the family -- at first.
"At that time, everything that we experienced with family to that point was very consistent and believable," he said. "Though media and viewers were skeptical, we remained skeptical, we have to operate on facts. Information was plausible. ... [The family] granted us free access to search the house, complete access to the children, to interview him, after Falcon was found, talk to him -- suggestive to us that it was the real deal."
But then new facts began to emerge.
"After the fact, these people are actors, reality TV," Alderden said. "And they met and established a relationship when they were in acting school. They put on a very good show for us, and we bought it. I don't fault our staff, everything seemed plausible."
Richard and Mayumi Heene met at the Lee Strasberg acting school in Los Angeles, as reported Friday by ABC News' Denver affiliate KMGH-TV.
Alderden referred to a possible co-conspirator, Rob Thomas, 25, who attended Colorado State University in Fort Collins and met Heene online. In a blog posted on gawker.com, Thomas said Heene was desperate to be a celebrity.
"Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I think in this case the desperation was too much for Richard to bear," Thomas wrote on Gawker. "Richard's construction business wasn't doing too well. It's hard to find people interested in spending money on the aesthetics of their home when they're worried about their mortgage."
ABC News' Tom McCarthy and Dean Schabner contributed to this report.