To some people in town, Steven Roth is best known as a former Hollywood player, an agent and producer who worked with everyone from Robert Towne to Michael Douglas and was in on the ground floor of the Creative Artists Agency. To others, he is a patron of the arts, a contemporary art collector who’s been a trustee at both LACMA and MOCA.

But for most of his life, the foundation of Roth’s wealth has come from a family business – the multibillion-dollar South Gate company World Oil Corp., founded by his father, Bernard Roth. Now that both parents have recently died, he is locked in a family feud for its control.

Industry insiders say the fight comes down to a struggle between Steven and his older brother, World Oil President Robert Roth, over various parts of the company, which is one of the largest privately held companies in Los Angeles County.

“There’s infighting between Steven and Robert,” said Bob van der Valk, a petroleum industry analyst in Terry, Mont. “Robert’s trying to buy Steven out. I think Robert wants to combine the whole thing as one company and just be able to run everything under one banner.”

The fight has become public as Steven has begun a legal battle against Robert and a third brother, another former Hollywood player, film producer Richard Roth, alleging that the two are squeezing him out of World Oil’s oil and waste recycling subsidiary, DeMenno-Kerdoon.

The Compton subsidiary alone is worth about $225 million, according to court documents, and is the largest such business in the Western United States. But it’s only a fraction of parent World Oil, which reported nearly $2.4 billion in revenue to the Business Journal last year, ranking it No. 11 on the publication’s list of the county’s largest private companies.

Despite the fighting, Steven and Robert continue to work together at the company, even sharing a secretary.

Tim Hamilton, a petroleum industry consultant in McCleary, Wash., said such squabbling is typical after the parents in a family business die.

“When there’s a fight like this it’s always over the same thing – the economic value of the asset and how to divide those assets,” he said. “It’s all just human nature. It’s the fact that it’s a billion-dollar company that makes it interesting.”

Richard and Robert Roth declined to comment through their attorneys. Steven Roth did not return calls and e-mails for comment. His attorney declined to comment.


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