The good news: the ridiculous Laguna Beach saga involving feuding billionaire Bill Gross and his millionaire neighbor may be finally ending.
The crazier news: Orange County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Knill found Gross and his wife Amy guilty of contempt of court, ruling Friday that they flagrantly violated an order she issued last year prohibiting them from playing music too loudly in their backyard. The judge then ordered Bill Gross to spend five days in jail for flouting her order not to annoy his neighbor with loud music, but since rules don't apply to the rich, she immediately put the jail sentence on hold, citing the Covid-19 pandemic, and fined the Grosses $1,000 each while ordering Gross and his wife to do two days community service.
It is what Bloomberg called a "surreal turn of events" for the man once known as the “Bond King,” whose obsessive drive brought him to a pinnacle of the financial world, managing billions of dollars at Pimco (he quit after leaving a handwritten resignation letter in the middle of the night) and whose excessive and at times erratic behavior has now culminated in an incarceration for a dispute that for many could’ve been resolved over a garden fence.
Gross personal life followed the arc of his career, and in 2017 his 31-year marriage to Sue Gross ended in a bitter, widely publicized divorce that became the subject of tabloid reports after it was revealed that Gross allegedly left dead fish and other vile smelling liquids in the Southern California mansion he shared with his ex-wife Sue. Gross has said he’s been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and believes it helps explain not only his success but also why he could, by his own admission, rub people the wrong way.
That's when crazy really got going, and what should have otherwise been a quiet retirement quickly devolved into yet another feeding frenzy for the tabloids. Shortly after purchasing a multilevel home on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Laguna Beach in 2018 for $35.8 million...
... Gross raised the ire of his neighbor, tech entrepreneur and millionaire Mark Towfiq, by putting a protective net over a Dale Chihuly sculpture in his yard.
The details of the spat are by now the stuff of legends: the fight between the two cliffside neighbors boiled over after Gross installed a large glass art installation near the property line they share with Towfiq and his wife, Carol Nakahara, according to court records. After unsuccessful attempts to privately resolve the dispute with Gross and his staff over several months, Towfiq reported the matter to Laguna Beach.
After Towfiq complained, Bill and Amy Gross responded by blasting music outside, including repeatedly playing television theme songs such as “Gilligan’s Island.” Towfiq said the Grosses were trying to pressure him to drop the complaint with the city.
Important update in the @PIMCO founder Bill Gross neighbor dispute in Laguna Beach. Here's video his neighbor took of the alleged loud music that's prompted a new evidentiary hearing in the restraining order case. Part 1 YOU BE THE JUDGE: pic.twitter.com/kFnHb5lq6l— Meghann Cuniff (@meghanncuniff) July 20, 2021
At one point, Bill Gross - who was filmed semi-naked by his neighbor - pulled his best Walter Sobchak impression, saying “I’ve been in Vietnam and I’ve faced bullets from the Viet Cong. I’m not saying this incident was anything like that.”
Watch these clips and decide for yourself. Who’s out of line here? Underwear-clad Bill Gross with @50cent’s “In Da Club” blasting? Or Mark Towfiq, the neighbor who’s filming him? Part 1: pic.twitter.com/2R0CyTsIFt— Meghann Cuniff (@meghanncuniff) December 7, 2020
Judge Knill agreed with Towfiq and in December ordered the couple to stop playing music when they weren’t outside and to abide by municipal codes and not disturb their neighbor’s peace. That lasted about six months, Towfiq said.
Towfiq and his wife testified they were jolted out of bed while watching TV in July by loud music coming from the Grosses’ property. Towfiq took videos to record the music and Nakahara called the police. Although officers urged the Grosses to turn off the music, and expressed sympathy to Towfiq and his wife, no charges were filed. Bill and Amy Gross insisted the music was within the legal limit of 60 decibels and they turned it off shortly after being asked to do so by the police.
During the trial, Knill toured the two properties and got to hear what the music sounds like from Towfiq’s home at various levels. She was also shown videos from Towfiq’s phone, security camera and one from Amy Gross’s iPhone that showed the former professional tennis player yelling “I am outside,” while in the pool. She said she had to announce she was outside so Towfiq wouldn’t call the police.
Ultimately, both neighbors claimed they were the victim of the others’ harassment.
Gross’s lawyer Patricia Glaser then accused Towfiq and Nakahara of weaponizing the judge’s December order, while Amy Gross testified she feared going into her own backyard.
“I couldn’t have my wedding reception there,” Amy Gross, who married Bill at their home in Indian Wells in April, told the judge. “I couldn’t have my birthday there.”
Meanwhile, Gross testified his ongoing feud with the neighbor has him feeling like he’s in prison, but vowed he wasn’t going to be forced out of the house.
But Nakahara said she felt helpless because neither the judge’s December order, or calling police, has changed the Grosses’ behavior.
“What else are we supposed to do?” she asked the judge.
In the end, one can only hope that the suspended sentence will finally bring peace to billionaire's alley in Laguna Beach. Then again, it probably won't:
*GROSS SAYS CALIFORNIA JUDGE WAS BIASED AGAINST HIM, WIFE