Actor Kevin Costner testified Thursday that he was heartbroken as he watched millions of gallons of oil spew into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and that he headed to New Orleans to see if cleanup devices he helped develop could aid the recovery effort.
Costner, who has been sued in a multimillion-dollar business dispute involving the devices, told jurors he was nervous.
"My name is at stake," he said.
Costner was on the stand for about an hour at a civil trial centered on the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New Orleans. His testimony is expected to resume Friday.
The suit was brought by actor Stephen Baldwin and his friend Spyridon Contogouris. It claimed that Costner and his business partner, Patrick Smith, duped them of their share of an $18 million deal for BP PLC to buy the oil-separating centrifuges after the 2010 oil spill.
Costner's attorney, Wayne Lee, has said his client played no role in Baldwin's and Contogouris' decision to sell their shares, for $1.4 million and $500,000, respectively, in a company that marketed the centrifuges to BP.
"Kevin Costner is here for one reason and one reason only: He's famous," Lee said in opening statements Monday.
On Thursday, the eight jurors in the case looked on as Costner was questioned by plaintiffs' attorney James Cobb about his history with oil cleanup machines as well as various business relationships and dealings that have transpired since his affiliation with the technology in the early 1990s.
Costner said he has a passion for technology, particularly environmental technology, and enjoys supporting the work of engineers and scientists. He said that after the oil spill, he went to New Orleans on a "fact-finding mission" to see if technology he was invested in could be used to aid cleanup efforts.
"I came down mostly because of the legacy of the (oil cleanup) machine and because the Gulf was in trouble," Costner said.
Cobb's initial questions barely made mention of Baldwin directly, but rather focused on Costner's business history and the role of the actor's celebrity status in BP's decision to buy his company's devices.
"I'm not just a celebrity," Costner said during testimony. "I'm not just a person who opens doors."
Cobb told jurors earlier this week that Costner and Smith spun a web of lies that cheated his clients out of millions of dollars and that the case is about deception "fueled by power and greed."
Baldwin and Contogouris are seeking more than $21 million in damages. Costner and other defendants also are seeking damages in counterclaims.
At the height of BP's efforts to stop the massive flow of oil from its blown-out well, the company ordered 32 of the centrifuges and deployed a few of the machines on a barge in June 2010. BP capped the well the following month and the well was permanently sealed in September 2010.
Baldwin and Contogouris claim they were deliberately excluded from a June 8 meeting of Costner, Smith and BP executive Doug Suttles, who agreed to make an $18 million deposit on a $52 million order for the 32 machines.
Cobb has said his clients didn't know about the deal when they agreed to sell their combined 38 percent ownership stake in Ocean Therapy Solutions for $1.9 million.
Costner's testimony Thursday didn't get that far. It made mention of an earlier meeting with Baldwin and others that Costner described as one of the most "disorganized, dysfunctional" meetings he'd ever been part of.
Pacific West Resources, a company operated by Costner and Smith, also is a defendant in the case.
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