Billionaire investor Bill Gross on Monday publicly called for an end to an episodic legal dispute over a $1 million garden sculpture with his tech-entrepreneur neighbor Mark Towfiq, but he responded by calling the plea a ‘desperate stunt’.
Gross, a retired bond investor, and his Laguna Beach neighbor, Towfiq, have been at odds for months over a 22-foot-long glass sculpture Gross has been keeping in his backyard.
Towfiq said he didn’t take issue with the sculpture until Gross, 71, began to install netting around it to protect it from ‘vandalism’ in July, a protective device he has described as ‘unsightly’.
Gross allegedly responded to Towfiq’s protests by playing loud music, including the theme to Gilligan’s Island, at all hours of the day in order to get Towfiq to drop his complaint.
The two men later sued one another for harassment, with Gross claiming Towfiq is a ‘peeping Tom’ who spies on him and his girlfriend and takes video and photos of them.
Following a series of court hearings over the past several weeks, Gross penned an open letter to Towfiq on Monday, proposing they resolve their dispute by agreeing to donate what they expect to pay in legal fees to ‘charities providing critical assistance in this time of need.’
But Towfiq’s attorney, Jennifer Keller, fiercely dismissed Gross’ offer, insisting: ‘We don’t intend to participate in his publicity stunt.’
‘If you want to settle a case, you don’t issue a press release,’ she blasted.
Billionaire investor Bill Gross on Monday publicly called for an end to an episodic legal dispute over a $1 million garden sculpture with his tech-entrepreneur neighbor Mark Towfiq
But Mark Towfiq (pictured with with Carol Nakahara) appeared to reject the plea, with his attorney calling it a ‘desperate publicity stunt’
Gross’ lawn sculpture appeared last year, stretching nearly 10 feet in height, and was created by renowned blown-glass artist Dale Chihuly
Apparently, Towfiq did not have an issue with the glass sculpture until Gross began to install elaborate netting (above) to protect it from ‘vandalism’ and environmental damage
In his letter, Gross wrote: ‘Those who know me and my history also know I do not willingly back down from a fight.
‘But this situation has escalated far out of proportion to the actual issues at stake, which are petty in comparison to a world in which thousands are dying and suffering every day, while many more are out of work and desperate to pay the rent and feed their families,’ he continued.
Gross requested both sides, ‘calculate all our respective legal fees and court expenses that we have already spent and will spend on this multifront battle, agree to end all hostilities, and instead donate the proceeds to Orange County food banks and other charities providing critical assistance in this time of need.’
But Keller, however, insisted the apparent proverbial olive branch will not be accepted, adding: ‘Make no mistake: this is not an offer to settle.
‘This is a desperate stunt to stem the tide of negative press the public exposure of Gross’s actions has produced,’ she told the Washington Post.
In a subsequent interview with the LA Times, Keller accused Gross of attempting to ‘buy his way out of accountability for his horrible behavior.’
Keller said Gross’ offer was a last-ditch effort ahead of his upcoming appearance in California Superior Court, where he is set to testify as early as this week at a hearing stemming from the two men’s dueling restraining orders. A judge is considering whether to make those orders permanent.
‘He is losing the trial badly and is literally on the eve of being cross-examined about his harassment and lies, which he is desperate to avoid,’ Keller continued.
Hitting back, Gross’ attorney Jill Basinger told DailyMail.com Towfiq’s refusal to accept the settlement proposal in ‘a way that will benefit those in need during these difficult times proves our assertion that his claims are nothing more than a thinly veiled publicity stunt and money grab, and that he cares about no one other than himself.’
In his letter, Gross (pictured with partner Amy Schwartz, right, and attorney Jill Basinger, left) wrote: ‘Those who know me and my history also know I do not willingly back down from a fight. But this situation has escalated far out of proportion’
Towfiq’s attorney called Gross’ letter ‘a desperate stunt to stem the tide of negative press the public exposure of Gross’s actions has produced’
A Gross confidante says this picture shows how the net protects the fragile blown-glass sculpture from dangers such as falling pond fronds
Gross and his partner, former professional tennis player Amy Schwartz, installed the $1 million Dale Chihuly sculpture – which features cobalt-colored reeds stretching nearly 10 feet high – back in 2019.
Throughout a trial that has been held across the last month, Towfiq has insisted he had no issues with the sculpture itself, rather his ire was struck when Gross installed protective netting around it this summer.
Gross said he installed the net after the sculpture suffered $50,000 worth of damage. Towfiq complained the ‘unsightly’ net partially blocks his view of the Pacific Ocean.
He then lodged a complaint with the city of Laguna Beach, who in turn sent Gross a letter informing him the sculpture and netting lacked the proper permits.
Towfiq said the complained appeared to incense Gross, who proceeded to make his life a ‘living hell’ by playing music at all hours of the day and night, including the Gilligan’s Island theme tune and Mariachi music.
Towfiq’s attorneys are still putting on their case in Orange County Superior Court and have called on Laguna Beach Police, who responded to a number of subsequent noise complaints.
Officer Wade Kraus said he responded to a call about loud music coming from Gross’ property at 2475 South Coast Highway at around 10:53pm on August 1.
Kraus described how he could hear the Gilligan’s Island theme song booming from Gross’ $32 million cliffside mansion while standing inside Towfiq’s house.
‘Based on my personal opinion and training as a police officer that level of noise at that time was unreasonable,’ Kraus told Judge Kimberly Knill.
Fellow Laguna Beach officer Ashley Krotine offered similar testimony, who said she was summoned to Gross’ property more than two months later on the morning of October 22.
Upon arrival, just after 9am, Krotine said she heard Mariachi music blaring so loudly from Gross’ home that it was drowning out the sound of the ocean and the traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway
Gross and his partner, former professional tennis player Amy Schwartz, installed the $1 million Dale Chihuly sculpture, which features cobalt-colored reeds stretching nearly 10 feet high, last year
Gross (left) allegedly responded Towfiq’s (right) protests by playing loud music, including the theme to Gilligan’s Island, at all hours of the day in order to get Towfiq to drop his complaint. The two men later sued one another for harassment
The homes of Mark Towfiq and Bill Gross are seen above in this aerial image
Towfiq has insisted he had no issues with the sculpture itself, rather his ire was struck when Gross installed protective netting was installed around it this summer
Responding to Towfiq’s camp, Gross’ attorney Jill Basinger (right) told DailyMail.com their refusal to accept the settlement proposal in ‘a way that will benefit those in need during these difficult times proves our assertion that his claims are nothing more than a thinly veiled publicity stunt and money grab, and that he cares about no one other than himself’
Towfiq said he also personally requested Gross turn the music down. Gross reportedly responded in a text: ‘Peace on all fronts or well [sic] just have nightly concerts big boy.’
Towfiq also alleged the couple were using remote controls to turn on the music, which he claims would play even when they were obviously not at home.
‘Defendant William Gross is a 76-year-old billionaire used to getting his way no matter what. As proven by their behavior here, Gross and his decades-younger-girlfriend, defendant Amy Schwartz, are bullies,’ Towfiq’s lawsuit stated.
Gross and Schwartz filed their own lawsuit, accusing Towfiq of creepy and obsessive behavior, including installing cameras directed at their property and ‘peeping tom behaviors.’
‘Defendant Towfiq appears to have a particular fascination not only with Mr. Gross but also Ms. Schwartz, particularly when the pair are swimming and thus wearing minimal, if any, clothing,’ states the lawsuit.
‘Enough is enough,’ Gross continued in a court filing. The billionaire says he ‘should not have to live tormented by the presence of cameras trained” on him because of “one man’s prurient obsessions.’
Court filings reviewed by DailyMail.com assert that the bad blood dates back even before Gross and his girlfriend Amy Schwartz moved into the home in 2019, when a huge production crew arrived with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson to film at Towfiq’s home.
At the end of a court hearing Monday, Judge Kimberly Knill revealed that Gross and Schwartz have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19
Last Monday Monday, Towfiq disputed Gross’ claim that he’s creepy and obsessive and exhibits ‘Peeping Tom behaviors,’ saying he doesn’t have any special interest Gross or his girlfriend
Gross’ attorneys say that Towfiq, ‘to attract the attention that he craves from celebrities,’ rented out the home to the HBO series for filming, and crews blocked Gross’ driveway for days as he and Schwartz were trying to prepare the home to move in.
‘The Ballers incident was the first unpleasant experience they had with the neighbor even before moving in,’ a source close to the Gross camp told DailyMail.com.
Last Thursday, Towfiq testified in Santa Ana state court that his neighbors never complained about the Ballers shoot, and said he remained friendly with Gross and Schwartz for months after.
‘I just cannot imagine how that — four or five days of filming and potential parking issues — would create or morph into something like this, I just cannot imagine,’ said Towfiq, according to Bloomberg.
Schwartz told the court in a declaration that the production crew’s trucks lined the coastal highway outside their ritzy mansion, blocking access to Gross’s driveway.
Laguna Beach police officers are seen posing with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson outside of Towfiq’s home in May 2019, during a shoot for the HBO series Ballers
‘Worse yet, the vehicles impeded the ability of our contractor to get to the house, which occurred just when we were trying to complete several projects in time for my birthday,’ she wrote.
Towfiq claims there were no signs of hard feelings at the time, however, noting that Gross and Schwartz invited him to a Kenny Loggins concert in their backyard in September 2019, for Schwartz’s 50th birthday.
At an earlier hearing last Tuesday, Towfiq recalled how people had warned him about Gross’ fuse-like temper.
According to the Orange County Register, Towfiq told the court that a neighbor told him in 2018: ‘I wouldn’t want an angry billionaire with a short fuse living next to me.’
Last Monday Monday, Towfiq disputed Gross’ claim that he’s creepy and obsessive and exhibits ‘Peeping Tom behaviors,’ saying he doesn’t have any special interest Gross or his girlfriend.
‘No, I never thought of [Gross and Schwartz] as celebrities,’ Towfiq said.
At the end of a court hearing Monday, Judge Kimberly Knill revealed that Gross and Schwartz have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Gross and Schwartz plan to take coronavirus tests of their own on Tuesday, the judge said.
Until the results of those tests are available, and it can be determined when Gross and Schwartz are available to testify in person, other witnesses may testify remotely, the judge added.
Testimony in the case is expected to continue on Thursday.
This is not the first time Gross has been accused of employing juvenile tactics to torment his adversaries.
Gross was accused in 2018 of spraying his $20million marital home with fart spray after he was forced to hand over the keys to the mansion to his ex-wife as part of a divorce settlement.
His former partner, Sue Gross (shown above), claimed that Bill Gross sprayed noxious scents around the home and even crammed dead fish into air vents, making her life ‘an unmitigated nightmare’ for several months
‘When I was finally able to obtain access to this house, I was disgusted to see that Bill had left it in a state of utter chaos and disrepair,’ a court filing from Sue Gross reads. ‘I found empty spray bottles of ‘puke’ smell and ‘fart’ smell in the garbage’
His former partner, Sue Gross, claimed that he sprayed noxious scents around the home and even crammed dead fish into air vents, making her life ‘an unmitigated nightmare’ for several months.
‘When I was finally able to obtain access to this house, I was disgusted to see that Bill had left it in a state of utter chaos and disrepair,’ a court filing reads.
‘I found empty spray bottles of ‘puke’ smell and ‘fart’ smell in the garbage; the houseplants smelled foul and had to be replaced. The carpets were stained, and there was water damage throughout the house.’
Gross made his fortune running PIMCO Investment management, and Towfiq is a tech entrepreneur. Gross purchased the Laguna Beach mansion, dubbed Rockledge-by-the-Sea, for $32million in 2018.
Towfiq built his dream home on the lot next door after purchasing it in 2009 and winning a protracted legal battle with another neighbor who claimed the project would impede coastal access.