Billionaire denies harassing neighbor with ‘Gilligan’s Island’ music in dispute
Los Angeles – Renowned bond investor Bill Gross had trouble remembering dates, details and prior testimony when he took the stand Monday in a civil harassment trial against a neighbor.
However, Gross was certain of one thing: That neither he nor his “life partner,” former professional tennis player Amy Schwartz, had harassed their next-door neighbors by playing loud music late at night while they were trying to sleep – including and especially the theme song from “Gilligan’s Island.”
Rather, he said it was neighbor Mark Towfiq, a wealthy tech entrepreneur, who harassed them by constantly taping the couple on his iPhone – recordings that Towfiq testified were done to capture the loud music.
“I consider him very strange. I consider him dangerous to approach,” Gross said during the hearing, which is considering dueling claims of harassment and is being streamed live on YouTube from Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana. “We called him ‘Peeping Mark.’”
Towfiq and his wife, Carol Nakahara, have accused the billionaire and his partner of harassing them with loud music after Towfiq complained to the city last summer about a blue glass lawn sculpture created by noted artist Dale Chihuly. Towfiq has testified that the art installation near their property line was unattractive once protective netting was put up, blocking the view from their seaside home on an exclusive stretch of South Coast Highway.
The complaint prompted the city to issue Gross a code enforcement letter July 28 stating that the structures lacked permits, which he needed to get or take down the installation. Towfiq has testified that the loud music started after the letter was issued.
Gross said he couldn’t remember exactly when he bought the sculpture, nor could he recall a letter sent to the city in response to the permitting problem, saying an attorney may have drafted it.
Gross, who had some trouble hearing the questions posed to him, also could not recall prior testimony by code enforcement officer Ross Corona and Laguna Beach Police Officer Wade Kraus who said the couple told them they would turn down the volume if Towfiq dropped his complaint.
“At 76, I have less of a memory than at 26,” said Gross, who retired last year.
However, the billionaire was adamant that he had not harassed Towfiq, despite a text exchange in which Gross warned his neighbor of “nightly concerts” unless there was “peace on all fronts.” Gross contended that the message was intended to stop Towfiq’s invasion of the couple’s privacy.
He also said he never carried out the threat. “What I did was not a nightly concert, so I guess I didn’t make good on my promise,” he said.
Gross’ remarks in the afternoon followed morning testimony from Schwartz, who also denied the music was played loudly and intended as harassment. She similarly denied telling Corona and Kraus that the music would be turned down if Towfiq dropped his complaint. “He testified that, but I did not say that,” she said, of Corona’s remarks.
Schwartz said that the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song was special to the couple because last summer they learned that Newport Harbor was featured in the opening credits and the view at another home they own there was identical to a clip from the credits. That caused the couple to add the song to their playlist.
“I love that song,” she said. “It’s a very special song.”
She also testified that she felt requests made by Towfiq to lower the volume of the music felt like “commands” to her and that he invaded her privacy numerous times by filming her when she was swimming. Towfiq has said he filmed the couple only to document their harassment.
“I’m scared. I feel violated. I feel afraid. I’m in a bikini or less,” she said.
Towfiq and his wife last week turned down an offer by Gross to end the dispute by donating to charities in Orange County. Towfiq’s attorney, Jennifer Keller, said that if Gross wanted to end the dispute he should take down the statue and netting, apologize to her client and pick up his legal fees.
Gross later issued a news release stating he had made the donation anyway, providing $500,000 to COVID-19-relief organizations in the county.
The court trial is expected to conclude this week, with final testimony from Gross, Nakahara and two other parties, as well as closing arguments. Towfiq and his wife are seeking an order ending the loud music, while Gross and Schwartz want Towfiq to stop recording them.