Skinwalker Cast Members Received $175k in County Economic Development Funds
A consulting firm founded by cast members of the cable television show The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch was contracted with three county governments in Utah for a fee of $58,500 per county to provide economic consulting services and strengthen business while simultaneously appearing on the show, according to public records and statements obtained by Expanding Frontiers Research (EFR). The records include a contract signed with Uintah County in January 2021 by Thomas Winterton on behalf of his and co-founder Brandon Fugal's Intermountain Economic Consulting.
Uintah County used sensational Skinwalker Ranch claims as a tool in what officials maintain were efforts to increase tourism, as recently reported by EFR. In a chain of events reminiscent of a Scooby-Doo plotline, Uintah County officials acknowledged their efforts to attract visitors included paying Skinwalker Ranch cast members tens of thousands of dollars to appear at PhenomeCon events held at the Uintah Conference Center in the county seat of Vernal.
In addition to the consulting contracts, Winterton and his limited liability company Dabato were paid over $10,000 by Uintah County for his appearances at the 2021 and 2022 PhenomeCon paranormal conferences. In a recent Zoom discussion with EFR, provided in its 35-minute unedited entirety at the end of this article, Winterton confirmed he was on a Uintah County organizing committee for PhenomeCon. All records recently obtained and referenced throughout this article are likewise posted for downloading at the conclusion of the piece.
Thomas Winterton, the manager of Skinwalker Ranch, maintained he is proud of his work and the surrounding circumstances. He repeatedly suggested he interprets no conflicts of interest arising from his financial incentives to promote the Skinwalker Ranch paranormal narrative. Neither, he suggested, does he identify conflicts of interest among the different hats he wears from Secret of Skinwalker Ranch cast member to PhenomeCon personality for hire to member of the PhenomeCon organizing committee to county economic consultant, much of which is funded by tax dollars.
They are all completely separate, he asserted, adding that he takes issue with being referred to as a cast member of Secret of Skinwalker Ranch in the context of his other business ventures. Urged to directly address if he sees a conflict of interest between the ventures, Winterton told EFR, “No, I see zero conflict, zero conflict.”
Intermountain Economic Consulting
Thomas Winterton co-founded Intermountain Economic Consulting with reported ranch owner and fellow Secret of Skinwalker Ranch cast member Brandon Fugal, according to the company website. Another frequent figure of the show and promoter of the Skinwalker Ranch paranormal narrative, James Morse, is listed on the website as a team member.
Records recently obtained by EFR from Uintah County show that Intermountain Economic Consulting secured a $58,500 contract. Two more contracts, each for the same amount, were undertaken between the firm and both Daggett County and Duchesne County, totaling at least $175,500 in county economic development funding awarded to the firm.
The contracts state economic consulting services were to be provided, but accompanying public records obtained from the counties do not clarify exactly what was ultimately delivered for the expenditures. None of the one-year contracts were renewed for a second year.
Winterton asserted he extended each of the contracts an additional eight weeks at no further expense to the counties, for reasons he attributed to time he had spent “filming,” apparently The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch. He wanted to feel certain he met his company's contractual obligations, he maintained, but also emphasized that he felt the commitments were already met, for reasons including James Morse reportedly spent substantial amounts of time devoted to the Uintah County contract.
It is Winterton's position that the counties received strong returns on the money paid to his and Fugal's consulting firm. He asserted he was instrumental in bringing the counties significant economic opportunities, such as his involvement in securing deals that led to job creation, even if the contributions or growth are not readily apparent in public records.
County commissioners did not immediately respond to requests for comment about their impressions of the services delivered or value of contracts entered into with Intermountain Economic Consulting.
Confusion with Colliers International
The Uintah County contract undertaken with Intermountain Economic Consulting was initially discovered after review of an approved county budget which included a $58,500 expenditure in 2021 to Colliers International. Colliers is a global real estate and investment firm which names Brandon Fugal as chairman and lead partner of its Utah office. The Canada-based Colliers International boasts some 400 offices in 68 countries with a reported annual revenue of $3 billion.
A subsequent records request for further information on the Colliers expenditure resulted in receiving documents that include the minutes from a January 2021 Uintah County Commission Meeting. The minutes indicate public discussion of a “consulting agreement with Colliers International for economic development,”; that a “representative from Colliers International” was believed to be present; and that “Commissioner [Bart] Haslam moved to enter into a contract with Colliers International.”
However, the resulting contract was not drawn up with Colliers, but was undertaken with and funds were disbursed to Intermountain Economic Consulting. An invoice from the consulting company, requesting full payment and shown below, directed questions to Winterton.
Documentation payment was issued:
Attempts to learn why Intermountain Economic Consulting was contracted and paid the $58,500, rather than Colliers International, led to meeting minutes of the Daggett County Commission. During a March 16, 2021, meeting, county commissioners considered a contract for economic development services, in which Colliers International was again named as the potential contractor. The minutes indicate Winterton was in remote attendance. Documentation of the meeting minutes states, “Thomas [Winterton] said the contract is actually with Intermountain Economic Consulting and Colliers is a strategic Partner, so the contract needs to reflect that.”
Records obtained do not make it clear exactly how Colliers became repeatedly represented as the company of record on the agendas of public county proceedings and in the Uintah budget expenditures. During the Nov. 11 Zoom call, Winterton asserted he informed his government prospects that Intermountain Economic Consulting was the company being contracted. Winterton attributed the confusion to Fugal's affiliation with Colliers and maintained Intermountain Economic Consulting “never misrepresented” the circumstances. It is not his responsibility, he suggested, if county commissioners and personnel “have it in their heads” they are doing business with Colliers International. Asked how they would have gotten that in their heads, Winterton responded, “Because Brandon [Fugal] is the chairman of [Utah] Colliers International; when he gives them a business card, it says Colliers on it.”
A Jan. 11, 2021, contract obtained from Duchesne County rather questionably states the agreement is specifically entered into between Colliers International and Duchesne County. The contract, shown below, is signed by Winterton, who is listed as the Managing Director of Intermountain Economic Consulting. It appears additional confusion may have arisen if Winterton and Fugal's consulting firm was in the habit of using the same contracts Fugal used when conducting business as Colliers.
The above contract was signed on behalf of Duchesne County by Commissioner Irene Hansen. Commissioner Hansen did not immediately respond to an email request for comment on her assessment of circumstances surrounding consultation services undertaken with Intermountain Economic Consulting.
The contracts state the consultants are obligated to provide ongoing economic development services, use proprietary knowledge to facilitate projects, act in the best interest of clients, and similar commitments that might be considered somewhat difficult to quantify. A proposal from Intermountain Economic Consulting that was submitted to Duchesne County was much more specific.
It committed to such deliverables as creating an action plan; generating detailed demographic reports and maps tailored to the County; organizing programs for recruiting companies; creating a collateral library to showcase research; administering key training for economic development officials, and much more. However, the EFR records request that obtained the proposal, which sought documents pertaining to Intermountain Economic Consulting and/or Colliers International, as well as reports submitted and documentation of products and services delivered, produced no records reflecting such items or any further reference to them.
Multiple records requests sent to various offices of the contracted Utah counties failed to produce documentation of what was delivered by Intermountain Economic Consulting. It remains unverified as of this writing if progress reports or any similar documentation of activities were ever submitted or recorded.
Public records obtained from Daggett County include referenced statements from Fugal and Winterton pertaining to attempts to sell the ill-fated Daggett County Jail. The real estate listing for the property, which was apparently never sold, was seemingly with Colliers, arguably further confusing the boundaries between Intermountain Economic Consulting and “strategic partner” Colliers International. The two companies also share the same Salt Lake City address, a suite on South Millrock Drive.
Meeting minutes obtained from a Jan. 11, 2021, Uintah County Commission Meeting contain reference to the statements of County Commissioner Brad Horrocks. During discussion of entering into a contract with “Colliers International,” the commissioner apparently suggested he was impressed with presentations attended and felt the county should be moving forward and trying new things. However, Commissioner Horrocks added the county would be very demanding on its return for its money. The commissioner did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the quality of service provided for payment actually issued to Intermountain Economic Consulting or if he felt his expectations were met.
In that same 2021 meeting, County Commissioner Bill Stringer expressed reluctance. “[Commissioner Stringer] does not support this for the reasons being that there is not promise on return for our money,” the meeting minutes reflect. “He was also concerned that they came to us, we did not find them. He did not want to hope for something. Commissioner [Bart] Haslem understood Commissioner Stringers [sic] concerns but as they have looked into this felt comfortable moving forward.”
Commissioner Stringer did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his thoughts in hindsight on the contract award.
PhenomeCon Organizing Committee
Vernal City Manager Quinn Bennion told EFR during an October email exchange that PhenomeCon speakers and amounts of compensation were decided by an organizing committee of which he was a member. Bennion averted from describing the process in more detail when asked to do so, advising that he would not be responding to further emails.
An Oct. 26 records request was subsequently submitted to Travis Campbell, director of the office of Uintah County Economic Development. The request sought records pertaining to the PhenomeCon organizing committee as described by City Manager Bennion, a list of its members, minutes of its meetings, and policies and procedures for selecting PhenomeCon service providers and compensation. After receiving no acknowledgment of or response to the request, Campbell was emailed again on Nov. 10 and asked the status of the request.
Campbell briefly replied by email the same day, “I am not associated with the organizing committee you mentioned so I do not have any records pertaining to your request.” He then suggested EFR seek documentation elsewhere.
In a follow up Nov. 10 email, Travis Campbell was asked, to be as clear as possible, if it was his position the office of Economic Development has no association with a PhenomeCon organizing committee as described by Bennion. As of this writing, Campbell has not responded to the email.
Thomas Winterton, when asked if he was a member of the PhenomeCon organizing committee, replied, “I am, and I'm very proud to be part of it.” Apparently alluding to formulas for arriving at amounts of compensation, he added that he offered Uintah County comparison figures as to “what had been paid to us in other conferences that we have attended.”
“But I did not ask for a specific amount,” Winterton continued, raising the palms of his hands to the computer screen, “nor did I have anything to do with the amounts of my compensation or the rest of the team.” There was “a discussion,” he added, but it was ultimately the Uintah County Travel and Tourism directors that made that call, Winterton maintained.
As indicated above, Thomas Winterton adamantly defends the integrity of Intermountain Economic Consulting and his actions. He repeatedly made statements to that effect. He also explained he felt personally attacked by EFR inquiries and reporting. It was subsequently suggested that from this side of the inquiries, a more accurate description might be that a thread of entitlement and resistance to government transparency runs through several of the people who populate this story. They may very well experience the circumstances as feeling personally attacked.
Records obtained from Uintah County: