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Balloon case charges may come next week

Couple willing to turn selves in, lawyer says

Richard and Mayumi Heene arrived home from a short shopping trip with their son Bradford in Fort Collins, Colo. Richard and Mayumi Heene arrived home from a short shopping trip with their son Bradford in Fort Collins, Colo. (Ed Andrieski/ Associated Press)
By P. Solomon Banda
Associated Press / October 20, 2009

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FORT COLLINS, Colo. - Authorities investigating the family accused of perpetrating the balloon boy hoax to promote a reality show said yesterday they do not expect to bring possible charges until at least next week.

Larimer County sheriff’s spokeswoman Eloise Campanella said that investigators do not anticipate finishing their reports and presenting them to the district attorney’s office until next week. It will then be up to prosecutors to decide whether to file charges against Richard Heene or his wife, Mayumi.

The couple’s lawyer, David Lane, said earlier in the day that he expected charges to be filed by tomorrow. With television cameras and reporters set up outside the Heene home, Lane has stressed that the Heenes are willing to turn themselves in to avoid the spectacle of a public arrest.

Lane declined to say directly whether he believes it was a hoax, but said the Heenes are innocent unless convicted. The family remained in seclusion yesterday at their home.

“If they [prosecutors] can prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, that’s one thing. If they can’t prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, that’s another,’’ he said.

Investigators also say they want to question an associate of Richard Heene after e-mails surfaced showing the two had discussed a balloon hoax months ago as part of a public relations campaign for the reality show.

Robert Thomas of Denver said Heene had told him he was planning a media stunt to promote a proposed reality show. Thomas, a self-described researcher, sold his story to Gawker.com and provided the website with e-mail exchanges between him and Heene. Thomas said the show would feature Heene as a mad scientist who carries out scientific experiments.

“This will be the most significant UFO-related news event to take place since the Roswell Crash of 1947, and the result will be a dramatic increase in local and national awareness about The Heene Family, our Reality Series, as well as the UFO Phenomenon in general,’’ according to a copy of the show’s proposal provided to the site by Thomas.

Gabriel Snyder, Gawker.com editor in chief, confirmed that the New York-based website paid Thomas, but declined to say how much for the story billed with the headline: “Exclusive: I Helped Richard Heene Plan a Balloon Hoax.’’

Snyder said Thomas was planning to meet with investigators, but Larimer County sheriff’s spokeswoman Kathy Messick would not say whether he had been interviewed. Messages left for Thomas by the Associated Press were not returned.

Thomas, 25, said in his Gawker.com story that the plan he knew about did not involve Heene’s children.

Sheriff Jim Alderden announced Sunday that he is seeking charges, including felonies, against Richard and Mayumi Heene.