alderdenIf you were holding your breath for more than two hours last Thursday as a silver balloon allegedly containing six-year-old stowaway Falcon Heene traveled high in the sky, consider yourself duped. That is, if Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden is correct in his assessment that the entire odyssey was planned by Falcon’s father, Richard Heene, a Fort Collins storm chaser whose family twice starred on the ABC reality show “Wife Swap.” Alderden (pictured) says the Heenes were seeking to get publicity for an unnamed reality show: “Clearly we were manipulated by the family, and the media was manipulated by the family” (via the Fort Collins Coloradoan). “These people are actors. Needless to say, they put on a very good show for us, and we bought it.” Falcon’s comment about “doing it for the show” on “Larry King Live” first tipped off Alderden. Besides, the sheriff says, the balloon was incapable of carrying the boy, and there is evidence the family conspired with others to pull off the hoax—allegations that spawned as many stories around the globe as the initial story, including this report from BBC. Expressing concern over Richard Heene’s “volcanic” temper and the safety of his family, Alderden tells the Los Angeles Times that Heene, who has a high school education but no college degree, “may be nutty, but he’s not a professor.”

Colorado attorney David Lane is representing the Heene family and tells CBS’s “The Early Show” the parents, who face possible charges, including felony conspiracy, are ready to turn themselves in to avoid the spectacle of arrest, which could be harmful to children to see (via CBS/Associated Press). Meanwhile, sheriff’s investigators still have much work to do, including tracking down 25-year-old Colorado State University student Robert Thomas, who was paid by Gawker for an exclusive expose titled, “I Helped Richard Heene Plan a Balloon Hoax” (via 7News).