As the projected costs for a mysterious "ghost town" skyrocket, questions about the company's financials, size and seemingly vague, unrealistic business plans pile up.
Pegasus Global Holdings picked a site in Lea County earlier this month for its Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation, an uninhabited town it plans to build for testing emergent technologies. At the same time, the project originally priced at $200 million suddenly became a $1 billion deal. But Pegasus still hasn't disclosed a single investor or potential client who would use the site. And Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima says Pegasus has acknowledged in meetings that it still needs to raise more money to execute the project.
According to Pegasus' Dun and Bradstreet business profile—updated as of May 5—a $1 billion venture is indeed a leap for the company. Pegasus' biggest credit purchase since its 2004 inception was for $15,000. And the company itself has just one employee, according to Dun and Bradstreet—CEO Robert Brumley.
In the past, Pegasus has done mostly defense contracting, creating devices for soldiers that jam the signals used to detonate improvised explosive devices. But according to federal government contract portal usaspending.gov, Pegasus hasn't earned money from a Department of Defense contract since 2009. That year, Pegasus contested DoD's decision to contract with a different company for similar technology, but the Government Accountability Office denied the protest.
Pegasus isn't Brumley's first ambitious high-tech venture. His company TerreStar planned to build "the nation's first integrated satellite terrestrial mobile communications network," according to statements made by its general counsel. But in 2008, the company laid off over half of its workforce, and Brumley resigned as CEO and president before TerreStar went bankrupt.
Pegasus' lack of recent earnings is part of why the company drew the attention of Silicon Valley entrepreneur John Nagle. Nagle is the inventor of the Nagle algorithm, a code that speeds up networks and is now used on all computers worldwide. He recently created SiteTruth, a program that automatically checks companies' websites based on a few simple, revealing metrics. SiteTruth flagged Pegasus partly because two of its three business locations, in London and Washington, DC, appear to be "mail drops," Nagle says.
"The one in London is one of those places where you can rent space in a prestigious address, and if you need an office while you're there, you can have one for a day or hour basis," Nagle says. "The one in downtown Washington seems to be something similar."
Pegasus' location in Reston, Va., isn't a mail drop, but it does share the same suite with a number of other businesses, SiteTruth found. SiteTruth considers mail drop addresses a red flag—they are used to create the appearance that a company is larger or more prestigious than it really is.
"There's nothing [in public records of Pegasus] that indicates a company big enough for this," Nagle says.
Part of Pegasus' vision for CITE includes testing of driverless cars, but the company has yet to announce a partnership with the country's forerunner in that industry, Google, Inc.. Google is already testing its cars in California, with drivers sitting behind the wheel to intervene in case of emergency. Legislation passed in Nevada allows Google to do the same thing there.
Pegasus' plan also seems to now include power generation, despite the significant obstacles it would have faced with an alternate location it considered for CITE. If Pegasus had chosen a site near Las Cruces, the city would have had to build $40 million of infrastructure in order to begin alternative energy production, Miyagishima says.
"The land they were looking at has no infrastructure at all—it's just desert," Miyagishima says. "It would have taken awhile to get infrastructure out there."
Nagle points out that power companies don't need a costly ghost town constructed around them in order to operate.
"If you want to go into the power business, you don't need to build a whole town for that," Nagle says. "And that's a capital-intensive business to go into, with paybacks measured in a decade or so."
The nebulous nature of Pegasus' business plan is part of why New Mexico refused to partner with the company during the administration of former Gov. Bill Richardson. As SFR previously reported, the state Economic Development Department turned Pegasus away in 2009, when it wanted a multimillion-dollar financial commitment from the state [news, Sept. 2011: "Pie in the Sky"]. Under Gov. Susana Martinez, EDD changed its tune, entering into a memorandum of understanding to help the company develop the project.
"I would be suspicious of any request for public funding…it's too soon to call this New Mexico's Solyndra, but you could get there," Nagle says.
Pegasus’ website touts a second ambitious project—building the “first international commercial space launch facility.” But international commercial space launch facilities have existed since 1984. The project’s page features stock photos of space vehicles at the European Space Agency and what appears to be the Russian Federal Space Agency. But White Sands Missile Range does confirm that it has a research agreement to explore the possibility with Pegasus. “This is only a paper study at this point, and the project has not been approved for implementation,” spokeswoman Monte Marlin says. “The study could take conceivably up to about two years. Nothing has been approved through the Army; it’s only a study.”