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Lawsuit over Kevin Costner's centrifuge sale to BP begins

Do readers in Nevada remember the 1995 film "Waterworld"? The now-infamous flop starred Kevin Costner and was about a future world with a shortage of drinking water. It was during the making of that movie that Costner first developed an interest in using centrifuges to separate crude oil from water in the event of an oil spill. Now that inspiration has led to business litigation between Costner and fellow actor Stephen Baldwin.

Costner and a partner eventually formed a company to manufacture and sell centrifuge devices to oil and gas companies. They did not have much success until 2010, following the April Deepwater Horizon disaster that spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. On June 8 of that year, Costner's company sold 32 centrifuges to BP, the company that owned the well. BP put an $18 million deposit on the machines and used a few of them later that month before finally capping the well in September 2010.

But a pair of investors in Costner's company, including Baldwin, says they were fraudulently frozen out of the profits from the BP deal. They claim in a lawsuit that Costner and his business partner deliberately persuaded Baldwin and another investor to sell their interests in the company, Ocean Therapy Solutions, for $1.9 million shortly before the June 8 meeting. They did so to avoid having to split the $18 million deposit, the plaintiffs claim.

Trial for this business litigation opened on June 5 with both Costner and Baldwin in attendance. The judge told jurors not to let the parties' fame affect their judgment. However, in his opening statement Costner's attorney said that Baldwin and his friend are suing Costner simply because he is a celebrity. Costner did not take part in discussions that resulted in Baldwin and the second investor selling their shares, the attorney said.

Baldwin and the second plaintiff seek $21 million in damages.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "Trial opens in suit against Costner over BP deal," Michael Kunzelman, June 5, 2012

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