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Anschutz seeks to expand film suit

'Sahara's' production firm files a motion to add two defendants to its case against Clive Cussler's literary agent.

January 23, 2008|Andrea Chang | Times Staff Writer

The production company owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz filed a motion Tuesday to add two defendants to its case against the literary agent of author Clive Cussler.

In the amendment filed in Colorado State Court, Anschutz's Crusader Entertainment, now called Bristol Bay Productions, requested that Cussler's publishers, Simon & Schuster Inc. and Penguin Group (USA) Inc., be added to the existing suit against Peter Lampack and Peter Lampack Agency Inc.

The suit was filed in February, with Crusader alleging Lampack fraudulently exaggerated book sales. The case grew out of a bitter court battle between Anschutz and Cussler over the financial failure of "Sahara," the 2005 action-adventure film starring Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz that was based on the author's Dirk Pitt series and produced by Crusader.

In that court case, tried in downtown Los Angeles last year, Crusader alleged that the author and his agent had duped Anschutz into overpaying for film rights by claiming that the Pitt series had sold more than 100 million books worldwide when audited records showed worldwide sales of closer to 40 million through June 2000.

"This case brings to light the publishing industry's dirty little secret of inflating supposed book sales to generate more sales," Marvin S. Putnam, Anschutz's attorney, said Tuesday. "And with this suit they'll be brought to task for these illegal and fraudulent actions."

Anschutz paid Cussler $10 million per book for the rights to "Sahara" and one other Pitt novel and gave Cussler extraordinary creative control.

Cussler had final say over the director and casting of the lead actors as well as certain approval rights over the script.

After a 14-week trial, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury found that Cussler breached his contract with the producers of the film and awarded Crusader $5 million.

The Colorado lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages. In Tuesday's filing, Crusader stated that it "never would have entered the agreement, paid the enormous sum demanded for the rights to Cussler's books, or financed the Dirk Pitt franchise" had it known the true sales figures for the books.

No trial date has been set. Neither Simon & Schuster, Penguin Group nor Peter Lampack could be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

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andrea.chang@latimes.com

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