The manager of Bill Gross’ oceanfront mansion was responsible for the “Spanish-language music” that blared from his California home in October—not the billionaire bond king, his lawyer argued in court Wednesday.
The argument is the latest twist in a ridiculously petty legal battle playing out in a Santa Ana courtroom between Gross, 76, and his Laguna Beach neighbor, tech entrepreneur Mark Towfiq. Towfiq, who moved to Gross’ neighborhood in 2015, sued the billionaire and his girlfriend, Amy Schwartz, for harassment, claiming the pair blared various tunes—including the theme to Gilligan’s Island—on repeat at all hours in an attempt to get Towfiq to drop a complaint about a glass sculpture.
In retaliation, Gross and 51-year-old Schwarz countersued for harassment, arguing the software company exec was the original harasser and a “peeping Tom” who installed a backyard camera to spy on them. Both sides have requested Judge Kimberly Knill grant restraining orders against one another.
On Wednesday, an attorney for Gross tried to poke holes in a local police officer’s testimony that she heard mariachi music blaring so loudly from the billionaire’s home on Oct. 19 that it drowned out the sound of the Pacific Coast Highway. During cross-examination, attorney Jill Basinger said the music actually belonged to manager Efrain Alba—who played it because he enjoyed it, not because he wanted to annoy Towfiq.
“When the house manager takes the stand, he will indicate that it was his music, and it is his preferred music, and it’s certainly not mariachi music and that’s an offensive way of describing it,” Basinger said, according to Bloomberg News.
The lawyer argued that the type of music proved “that it wasn't played by the Grosses,” thereby undermining Towfiq’s claim that it was “played to harass him.” Alba is expected to take the stand this week.
Basinger also pressed Towfiq, who continued his testimony Wednesday, about why he didn’t reach out to Alba about the music that played all day while Gross, co-founder of Pacific Investment Management Co., and his girlfriend weren’t home.
“One of the reasons was there were all these lawsuits flying around,” Towfiq, 56, said, according to the news outlet. “I just didn’t feel comfortable contacting anybody at this house.”
When asked if he found Spanish music to be “harassing,” Towfiq reportedly replied that he enjoyed the genre and has a “large collection of Latin music,” adding that he has “no problems with any kind of music.”
But while Gross’ lawyer tried to poke holes in Towfiq’s Oct. 19 complaint, it didn’t address the several other times the 59-year-old claims Gross blared music at “excessive” volumes. The music, he claims, was intended to pressure him and his wife to drop a city complaint about a 22-foot-long blue glass installation in front of Gross’ home, according to court documents.
During the hearings, Towfiq submitted several cell phone videos showing a man whom he claimed to be Gross dancing on his balcony as the Gilligan’s Island theme played, Bloomberg reported.
“Based on my personal opinion and training as a police officer, that level of noise at that time was unreasonable,” officer Wade Kraus testified about a visit on Aug 1., the Laguna Beach Independent reported.
According to Bloomberg, Gross’ lawyers are expected to call a sound expert to testify that the cell phone records are not “reliable” as to sound levels. Basinger argued that police are also unreliable at gauging whether music is too loud.
The feud between Gross, who was instrumental in the bond market during the 2008-2010 financial crisis, and his neighbor began after Gross installed a large net over his glass installation because it had been damaged. In response, Towfiq complained to the City of Laguna Beach that it blocked his view, prompting the city to send Gross a letter informing him that the netting, lighting, and sculpture did not have the proper permits and had to be removed, according to the Towfiq’s lawsuit.
In retaliation, Gross and his partner allegedly started to harass their neighbors with loud music, which also included rap and the theme song to M*A*S*H.
“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, filed in Superior Court, said.
In their own lawsuit filed on Oct. 13, Gross and his girlfriend accuse Towfiq of developing an obsession with them, installing cameras directed at their property and exhibiting “peeping Tom behaviors.” In one request for a temporary restraining order in October, Gross alleged he played the music because he felt “trapped in my own home.” Schwartz is expected to testify on Thursday.
“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 billionaire’s lawsuit, which accuses Towfiq of invasion of privacy, according to the Los Angeles Times.
But Towfiq has reportedly disputed the allegations that he was obsessed with Gross—whom he said others described as an angry billionaire with a “short fuse.” In his testimony on Monday, the 59-year-old said he wanted to meet Gross after he moved in and only started recording Gross’ home to prove there was music blaring.
“You always want to meet your neighbors and say ‘Hi,’ and have a friendly relationship,” Towfiq testified, according to the Orange County Register.