Life On The ''B'' List

Todd Shriber
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When celebrities and the business world cross paths, the results can be interesting to put it mildly. For every story of a celebrity's success in business, be it investing, real estate development, whatever, there is another about epic failure. For every Roger Staubach, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback that made hundreds of millions in commercial real estate, there is a bankrupt athlete or movie star somewhere.

More often than not, the stories about failure are not humorous, but this one has a tinge of humor to it and may just be the only aspect of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that is remotely funny: Stephen Baldwin is suing Kevin Costner over a business deal related to the spill gone bad. As somewhat of a movie buff, I rhetorically ask: Does anyone remember the last time either Baldwin or Costner was in a good film?

Baldwin and a friend have filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in New Orleans alleging Costner duped them into selling their shares in a company called Ocean Therapy Solutions. Costner even appeared on Capitol Hill after the spill hoping to convince politicians to force BP (BP) to use oil separators manufactured by OTS in the spill clean-up process.

Presumably using his status, Costner was able to broker a deal where BP leased 32 of the separators from OTS, but Baldwin claims he was not made aware of the deal before cashing out his stake in OTS. Worse yet may be this bit from the Los Angeles Times: Few but Costner and his partners knew that Costner did not own the company making the centrifuges, and that he was operating as a celebrity salesman.

Costner actually sold his interest in a company called Costner In Nevada Incorporated (CINC), which originally developed the separators, in 2004. OTS was formed immediately after the spill and had exclusive rights to market the CINC separators to BP. Baldwin and his friend Spyridon Contogouris thereby owned stakes of 10% and 28%, respectively, in OTS, the Times reported.

The two would later part with their stakes for $500,000 and $1.4 million, but their suit claims they were excluded from a meeting with BP officials that resulted in a $38 million windfall for OTS. Basically, Baldwin and Contogouris say had they known about the meeting and the order, the would not have sold their shares in OTS. But they did not know about all that stuff and they did sell their investments. Now they want some kind of compensation.

All of this may be enough to leave one saying ''Only in Hollywood.'' As for the separators, they delivered mixed results in helping clean up the oil that leaked into the Gulf and now reside in BP storage facilities. ''We do have six of them in a warehouse, and there are suspicions of more around someplace,'' BP spokeswoman Hejdi Feick told the Times.

A Hollywood ending may not be in the cards here, but at least this lawsuit could provide some decent theater.