A months-long battle between a California billionaire and his tech entrepreneur neighbor took another twist on Thursday when one of the men made a $500,000 charity donation, in a bid to shame his opponent into settling the case.
Bill Gross, 76, announced that he was giving the money to food banks and other charities supporting COVID relief efforts around his Laguna Beach home.
Gross, who founded one of the world’s largest money managers, Pimco, and is worth an estimated $1.5 billion, told his neighbor that it made more sense to spend the money on charity rather than legal fees.
He had previously suggested they both settle the case by donating their legal fees to charity – someting neighbor and rival, Mark Towfiq, refused.
Towfiq has dismissed the $500,000 donation as a stunt, to save Gross’s reputation.
Bill Gross, 76, is seen leaving court on Monday following a hearing over his $1 million sculpture
Gross’s neighbor Mark Towfiq, pictured with wife Carol Nakahara on Monday, is suing
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
Towfiq’s lawyer Jennifer Keller described it as a ploy to avoid an appearance in California Superior Court, where he is set to testify in the coming weeks at a hearing to decide dueling restraining orders.
A judge is weighing whether to make the temporary orders permanent.
Towfiq testified at the end of November; Gross was due to testify this week, but on Monday said he had been exposed to people who tested positive for COVID, and so the hearing was delayed.
He made the offer of the $500,000 donation in a bid to end the legal battle on Monday, and on Thursday announced he had made it.
Gross issued a press release describing the donation as ‘a reasonable, mutually beneficial, public offer to my neighbor to settle our ongoing dispute and donate what we have spent so far, and will spend, in legal fees and court costs to Orange County foodbanks and other charities providing critical assistance in this time of need.’
The homes of Mark Towfiq and Bill Gross are seen above in this aerial image
Gross installed the net to protect the fragile blown-glass sculpture from falling palm fronds
Gross said he had calculated his legal fees and prospective expenses, and donated the cash instead.
‘I believed, and still believe, that our mutual resources would be better spent in the midst of a global pandemic assisting those in need rather than on lawyers,’ he said.
‘I also believe the limited resources of the court should be reserved for more urgent matters instead of a dispute among neighbors.’
Keller responded, on behalf of Towfiq: ‘This is just billionaire Bill Gross trying to buy his way out of accountability for his horrible behavior.
‘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.’
Towfiq has shown no signs of letting the long-burning row end.
Towfiq and his wife Carol Nakahara built their dream ocean-front home on land they had purchased in 2009, after winning a protracted legal battle with another neighbor who claimed the project would impede coastal access.
In 2019 Gross and his girlfriend, former professional tennis player Amy Schwartz, 51, purchased the neighboring $32million property next door and moved in.
The seller of the home described Gross as an ‘angry billionaire with a short fuse,’ and a money manager at Pimco offered his ‘condolences’ when Towfiq told him Gross would be his new neighbor, Towfiq testified.
Sue Gross (left) claimed her ex 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’
On the weekend Gross was due to move in, Towfiq had rented his home out to HBO to film an episode of the series Ballers, starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
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
Gross complained that it caused him significant inconvenience to have the television crews blocking his driveway.
Then, this summer, they began rowing about a $1 million Dale Chihuly sculpture, 22ft-long with blue glass tendrils reaching 10ft into the sky.
Towfiq said he didn’t take issue with the sculpture until Gross began to install netting around it to protect it from ‘vandalism’ in July.
Towfiq described the netting as ‘unsightly’ and said it ruined his view of the ocean.
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.
Billionaire investor Bill Gross publicly called for an end to the legal dispute
Gross is pictured with partner Amy Schwartz (right) and attorney Jill Basinger (left)
Gross said he installed the net after the sculpture suffered $50,000 worth of damage.
Towfiq 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 complaint appeared to incense Gross, who proceeded to make his life a ‘living hell’.
Towfiq’s attorneys 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
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
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,’ Towfiq’s lawsuit states.
‘As proven by their behavior here, Gross and his decades-younger-girlfriend, defendant Amy Schwartz, are bullies.’
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 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.’
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.