Although he had a history of mental illness, police investigated his claims that he was part of a four-man operation to assassinate the president. He claimed that he had been approached by three Latino men staying at the Alan Hotel who gave him the starter pistol, and asked him to shoot it into the ground to create a diversion, so they could then shoot the president from their hotel room during the distraction.
According to Harvey, he fired seven blank rounds from the starter pistol on the hotel roof on the night of May 4, to test how much noise it would make, and then spent the night with one of the men he knew as Julio, later identified as a 21-year old illegal Mexican alien who gave the name Osvaldo Espinoza Ortiz. At the time of his arrest, Harvey had eight spent rounds in his pocket, as well as 70 unspent blank rounds for the gun.
The names "Lee Harvey" and "Osvaldo" drew comparisons to Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy. This led conspiracy buffs to claim that the incident was set up to scare Carter into submission.
Although originally dismissed as "a tale spun by an intoxicated man," police investigating the claims found a room in the Alan Hotel rented under the name "Umberto Camacho," the name of an alleged conspirator given by Ortiz, containing a shotgun case and three unspent rounds of ammunition. The occupant had checked out of the hotel room the day of the alleged assassination.
Harvey was jailed on a $50,000 bond, given his transient status, and Ortiz was alternately reported as being held on a $100,000 bond as a material witness or held on a $50,000 bond being charged with burglary from a car. Charges against the pair were ultimately dismissed for a lack of evidence.