Actor Kevin Costner Testifies in Fraud Case
NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Actor Kevin Costner opened up on the stand Thursday to fight claims that he shut out investors like fellow actor Stephen Baldwin while selling BP an oil-separating device in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion.
Costner testified that his "heart was a little broken" over the Gulf oil spill, "and knowing that this thing is going on and I have this machine to help," if someone could just consider it seriously.
The "Dances With Wolves" star said his partners tried to capitalize on his celebrity to promote the oil-separating centrifuge he developed in the 1990s.
Costner said he waited two years for the Department of Energy to make the patent to the oil-separating centrifuge available before he could purchase it.
That was roughly around 1993.
"I didn't lose money on it," Costner said, under questioning from Baldwin's attorney, James Cobb.
"I heard your opening remarks - that I failed, or maybe that wasn't your line exactly, but that I gave up," Costner told Cobb.
Though Costner has a different understanding of his history with the machine patent, he said there comes a time for separation from every project. When that time came and Costner sold the rights to the centrifuge patent, he had spent 10 years and approximately $20 million perfecting the machine.
By the time the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, 2010, Costner had already been working on a side project with Patrick Smith that would make centrifuges helpful in oil spills.
Though the centrifuge could separate oil from water at 100 parts per million, regulations require a separation to 15 parts per million, the actor said.
"This 15 parts per million is what finally wore me out," Costner told the jury. "I sent this machine around the world at my own expense, and I could not get it out there" because of that one "ridiculous clause."
But Smith believed engineers could develop a membrane capable of separating oil from water down to 15 parts per million, so they banded together to form WestPac Resources, Costner said.
The pair envisioned creating a membrane that could attach to any centrifuge in the world, not specifically the centrifuge Costner helped develop, he said.
Ultimately, they formed Ocean Therapy Solutions with Spyridon Contogouris, who had bought the patent to the centrifuge Costner worked on years earlier. Contogouris says he brought his friend Stephen Baldwin on board.
But in a 2010 lawsuit, Contogouris and Baldwin said they were conned into selling their shares, just as Ocean Therapy Solutions was set to sell BP 52 centrifuges for $52 million.
Costner told the court Thursday that Contogouris had been popping up in his life ever since they met during a family vacation in Greece.
Contogouris "sought me out and came and hung out on the yacht," Costner said, adding that he remembered Contogouris had been "really nice."
Contogouris allegedly contacted Costner again sometime later about the centrifuge. At the time, Costner put Contogouris in touch with his brother and a man in Nevada who was working on centrifuge technology.
When Contogouris showed up again, this time in Biloxi, Miss., during the oil spill, Costner said he was set to perform with his band Modern West.
Costner said Contogouris had first made several unsuccessful attempts to reach Costner on the phone.
Though Contogouris described the Biloxi meeting as one of pure chance in his lawsuit, Costner said there was no coincidence about it.
"He just showed up with his children" where Costner was staying, Costner said.
The actor says he reluctantly invited the family up when Contogouris called a mutual acquaintance to announce his presence downstairs.
"I didn't really want to talk to Contogouris at that time ... the Deepwater Horizon was going on," Costner testified. "I was very reluctant to be involved with Spiro."
"He's quick, he's ambitious, and he works very quickly," Costner said of Contogouris.
Cobb, Baldwin's attorney, noted each party had something to offer since Contogouris had bought the patent to the centrifuge Costner worked on years earlier, and Costner was developing the membrane with Smith.
"So, I guess it's fair to say he needed you guys and you needed him," Cobb said.
Costner countered: "I didn't need him. I could use any centrifuge with our membrane."
Cobb's questioning had gotten off to a rocky start when he criticized the actor for looking over notes before taking the stand.
Costner replied: "I came here to help out," adding that he was "nervous" and his "name is at stake."
Costner was more forceful with the lawyer later when he said: "I don't do very well when you get loud."
Costner says Contogouris urged him to come down to Louisiana during the oil spill to talk to BP.
What ensued was the most "chaotic, dysfunctional" meeting of his life, Costner said, noting that BP had not been awaiting his arrival to talk about the machine at all.
"We thought we were demonstrating the machine for BP," he said. "What it turned out was we were demonstrating it for the press."
He said he believes Contogouris and the others had planned to bring Costner to Louisiana and use his celebrity "to scare BP into using his machine."
"I'm not just a celebrity. I'm not just a person who opens doors," Costner said toward the end of his brief testimony Thursday. "I probably know more about oil spills than almost anyone in the world."
The actor said he was under no illusion that his celebrity would open doors, but that the others thought otherwise.
"I didn't feel that BP would feel pressure to buy the machine because of me," he said. "I had a lot of years' experience with the oil industry, and had found that very little pressures them. That wasn't my intention."
Costner spent much of his hour-long testimony telling the jury about his passion for the centrifuge.
"The way some people like musicians, I like engineers and scientists," Costner said.
Armed with the patent to the machine, Costner says he told the inventor: "Come work for me."
"And I fulfilled his dream," Costner added.
The inventor and roughly seven engineers then created a "robust" machine that was capable of separating water from oil at extreme temperatures, Costner said.
"I built it so that it could work in the North Sea," he told the court. "I built it to work in the Arctic."
The actor got a laugh from the courtroom when he said the centrifuge was the size of the "jail" he was sitting in.
Costner and Smith are countersuing Contogouris and Baldwin for damages.
Costner's testimony in U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman's court continues Friday.