The father of the 6-year-old Colorado boy who was thought to have been speeding through the sky for hours in a high-soaring homemade helium balloon is a self-described "storm chaser" who now finds himself at the center of another kind of squall.
A portrait is emerging of a publicity-seeking man who fled California with unsettled financial affairs and whose recent colorful past includes an appearance on ABC's "Wife Swap," a series of unusual inventions and a self-produced hip-hip video.
A Foxnews.com search of public records revealed that Richard Heene, 48, and his wife, Mayumi, owe thousands of dollars in connection to a company called My You Me Productions. Prior to moving to Colorado, Heene and his wife were aspiring actors in Los Angeles who met at an acting school, a source told Foxnews.com.
The state of California filed a $5,812 tax lien against Heene in 1993, and records show a small-claims judgment of $5,000 was filed against him in Los Angeles County in 2006. County tax liens totaling roughly $2,000 were found in connection to the production company, which is now known as Alternate Reality Productions, according to productionhub.com.
A former associate of Heene's told Foxnews.com he met the aspiring actor and filmmaker during the mid-1990s while working in a restaurant in Woodland Hills, Calif.
"He was trying to be an actor, he was trying to be a filmmaker," Perry Caravello said. "He and his wife were developing films and they were developing ideas for shows and piecing together stuff for different companies."
Caravello, who starred in 2003's "Windy City Heat," a made-for-television movie that appeared on Comedy Central, said Heene tried to become a part of the project but was shunned by its principals. Soon thereafter, Heene began crafting the idea of the "Psyience Detectives," Caravello said.
"He was totally bizarre with all that garbage," Caravello said. "We were like science detectives and storm chasers. Actually, it was very deadly, the storm-chasing stuff. He'd drive a motorcycle into the center of a tornado to get his readings. He would get on this itty-bitty motorcycle and just go."
The flailing project continued without much fanfare, Caravello said, until May 2006, when he and Heene got involved in a physical altercation in Diamondville, Wyo., while chasing a tornado.
"He punched me up in Wyoming," Caravello said. "That was the last time I spoke with him."
Caravello claims Heene still owes him $1,000 lent to him by Caravello's late mother.
"I was his assistant, his right-hand man, per se," he continued. "And I'd like to know when he's going to pay me."
Caravello said he was "totally shocked" when he realized it was Heene's 6-year-old son, Falcon, who authorities believed was soaring above the earth in one of his father's homemade aircraft.
"It clicked," he said. "The name Heene clicked in my brain. I was totally shocked at what I was reading."
Caravello said he has no doubt that Thursday's dramatic scene was somehow connected to Heene's desire to make it in Hollywood.
"It was a publicity stunt because Richard is not in the limelight like he used to be," he said. "He wants to be in the entertainment field. What will this guy go through or put up with to become a celebrity?"
Caravello said Heene, a diabetic, loved to eat "sweet things" and was also known to be messy. The two frequently partied and did drugs together, he said.
Heene, of Fort Collins, Colo., reportedly began his amateur scientific research in 2002 with lab experiments and then moved on to dust devils in California before flying a plane around Hurricane Wilma's perimeter in 2005. He now operates a Web site called thepsyiencedetectives.com, which has been taken down since Thursday's dramatic scene, and hopes to prove his theory that rotating storms create their own magnetic fields.
Authorities are seeking another interview with Heene's family to clarify a statement by Falcon that Thursday's runaway balloon saga was done "for a show."
His neighbor, Bob Licko, said he frequently sees the father of three working in the garage on various scientific projects, including a "flying saucer" and a machine that "puts out more power than it uses." Licko said it's apparent Henne loves delving into scientific endeavors.
"He's a storm chaser," Licko told Foxnews.com. "But some of it is simply for his pure enjoyment."
Licko said the Heene family is "a bit" unconventional, but he said he's never felt his three young sons — Falcon, Ryo and Bradford — were in any danger from their father's experiments.
"[Heene] runs a loose ship for the boys and lets them do their own thing," Licko said. "But regardless of the way he raises his boys, I think he's a very caring father. [He and his wife] care a great deal for their children."
In a July 2007 feature story in The Denver Post, a reporter followed the Heene family as it piled into a van while chasing a storm near the Wyoming-Colorado border in hopes of better predicting storms' movements. Heene said he became fascinated with the concept in 1979 when he was working as a contractor in Waco, Texas, and a tornado ripped off a nearby roof and dropped it 300 yards away. Miraculously, he said, no shingles on the roof were destroyed or even disturbed, leading him to believe that magnetism played a role in the occurrence.
Heene's business partner, Scott Stevens, said he was a radio show host when he met Heene, and he said he liked his hands-on approach to research. Stevens has a degree in broadcast meteorology; Heene has no professional science training.
While most storm chasers track a storm from behind, Heene and Stevens followed the July 2007 storm by trying to intercept it head-on.
"There's no other way," Stevens told the paper. "We have to get right under it to collect our data."
Earlier that month, on July 12, 2007, Mayumi Heene told the paper they had a close call while tracking a tornado in Buckeye, Colo., but the children were oblivious to the risks.
"I think they really are having fun," Mayumi Heene told the paper. "They get so much more that they can't get from any other entertainment."
Richard Heene added, "I think I have odd kids. They start screaming with excitement."
Heene's former business partner, Barbara Slusser-Adams, told Fox News that she split from Heene last fall in part because of the dangerous situations experienced by the young boys, particularly during Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
"I had some problems with that," Slusser-Adams said of Heene's desire to take his boys toward the Texas coastline to track Gustav. "I did not feel I wanted to join them on that venture."
Slusser-Adams praised Heene's knowledge of storm chasing, but she noted that the pursuit centers around public exposure for Heene's entire family — including Falcon, who was the subject of a multi-county search after the balloon came down without him in it. He later was found in the family's garage.
"He's grown up in this type of atmosphere where things are a show," Slusser-Adams said. "This business is about publicity, it truly is."
Slusser-Adams noted that Falcon is only 6 years old, and he has already appeared on two episodes of "Wife Swap," which promoted the Heenes as a storm-chasing clan determined to find extraterrestrials and build a "research-gathering flying saucer" to send into the center of a storm.
Karin Martel, of Trumbull, Conn., entered the Heene household as the new "wife" on the television show last October.
Martel, a Spanish teacher, told the Connecticut Post she tried to bring order to the rambunctious Heene household. She said the boys slept in their clothes so they could leap out of bed in an instant if a storm approached. Mayumi Heene would alert the boys with a megaphone, she said.
Perhaps ironically, Martel's husband, Jay, said he appeared on the show to teach parents about child safety.
"We wanted to enlighten as many people as possible and potentially save lives," he told the paper.