NEW ORLEANS (CN) – Defending himself in a $21 million lawsuit, Kevin Costner testified Friday that his company, which sold oil and water-separating centrifuges to BP after the oil spill, had become “dysfunctional” because some of its members – for instance, actor Stephen Baldwin – did nothing.
Baldwin and Spyridon Contogouris sued Costner and his business partner Patrick Smith for $21 million, saying the pair tricked them into selling their shares in Ocean Therapy Solutions just as the company was set to sell BP 32 oil separating centrifuges for $52 million.
During cross-examination by Baldwin’s attorney James Cobb, Costner said that Ocean Therapy Solutions had a dysfunctional culture of members “just grabbing things.”
This “grabbing things,” Costner said, explained why when shares became available, whoever got a hold of them first was allowed to keep them.
Things around the company did not work as he would have expected, Costner said.
For instance, Contogouris as a majority shareholder “somehow” had to stay in the background all the time.
As for Baldwin, Costner said: “I never saw him do anything.”
Costner recalled some particularly “dark days” for the company in early June 2010.
On June 2, 2010, Costner said, he was in Los Angeles with his wife, who was having a baby. He said he was in the hospital when Contogouris called to tell him “he wanted out” of Ocean Therapy Solutions.
“I saw an unreasonable quality starting to come out between” company members, Costner said.
Costner said that after all the company’s hard work, and with a partnership with BP on the horizon, he had been angry to see the growing discord among members.
“I was pissed,” he said. “We’d come really far and now we were squabbling about money.”
Midflight through his recollection of those dark days, Costner paused. “I’m doing this all wrong. I can just tell,” he said, eliciting laughter from the courtroom.
Costner described a technique he said he developed with CEO John Houghtaling, in which, to gain the trust of BP executive Doug Suttles, Costner would “reveal” himself to let Suttles know he “wasn’t a nut.”
Costner and Baldwin have kept their distance throughout the trial. But after Costner spoke of his strategy to “reveal” himself to Suttles, Baldwin, who sat at the plaintiff’s table facing Costner, apparently made an expression, because Costner addressed him directly: “Are you amused by this?” Costner asked.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman interrupted: “This is going to stay civil.”
Costner said Houghtaling begged Baldwin and Contogouris not to sell their shares just before BP made its offer to buy the machines.
Baldwin and Contogouris claim they were excluded from the June 7 dinner at which Suttles agreed to pay an $18 million deposit on a $52 million order for 32 centrifuges.
Costner said the men were invited to the dinner but chose not to attend.
Costner denied Cobb’s assertions that Baldwin and Contogouris were kept in the dark about important developments with BP. The actor said Baldwin and Contogouris should have seen the developments with the oil giant as very promising.
For instance, of the dinner with BP executives, Costner said: “Having dinner on the 7th should have been taken by your clients as very good news.”
Costner’s attorney, Wayne Lee, a soft-spoken man, said his client had nothing to do with Baldwin and Contogouris’ decisions to sell their shares in the company for $1.4 million and $500,000, respectively.
Lee said Costner, who lost $20 million in his previous efforts to market the centrifuge technology to the oil and gas industry, decided to contact BP about the product because he wanted to help the Gulf Coast during the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Costner “came down in 2010 to try to do something helpful,” Lee said during opening remarks.
Baldwin is expected to testify at the trial this week.
At the height of the 87-day oil spill, BP ordered 32 of the centrifuges. It sent a few of them to the Gulf in June 2010.
The well was capped at the end of July 2010.
Throughout the jury trial Costner has kept a serious composure while Baldwin has made wild, often comic expressions, and has a habit of turning to stare into the faces in the court gallery.
During recesses, Costner tends to stay at the defendant’s table with his attorney, while Baldwin goes into the hallway to socialize.
Costner and Smith have countersued for damages.
The trial is expected to last through the end of the week.