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Man intentionally drove off L.A. pier, killing sons, to collect insurance money, prosecutors say

Man intentionally drove off L.A. pier, killing sons, to collect insurance money, prosecutors say
LAPD Harbor Division detectives and police officers investigate the scene of a crash in 2015 that killed two children after their family car plunged into the San Pedro harbor. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A Hawthorne man who authorities say intentionally drove his family off the side of a wharf at the Port of Los Angeles in 2015, killing two of his sons in a scheme to collect insurance money, is being held without bail on federal charges.

Ali Elmezayen, 44, who was arrested last week, is facing mail fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges in connection with the crash. If convicted of all counts, he could spend the rest of his life in prison, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

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Passersby standing on a commercial pier in San Pedro told federal investigators they heard tires screech as a Honda sedan hurtled into the murky water at the Port of Los Angeles on April 9, 2015, according to an affidavit filed in court.

Rabab Diab, Elmezayen’s domestic partner, sat beside him screaming for him to stop the car. The couple’s 13- and 8-year-old sons, who both had autism, were strapped into the back seat. Diab told investigators Elmezayen said nothing as the car flew off the edge of the wharf, crashed into the water and sank.

Elmezayen was the first to emerge from the water after he swam out of the open driver’s-side window to a ladder on the dock. Diab, who did not know how to swim, was saved when a fisherman threw her an inner tube. Their two children drowned after the car sank 30 feet, the affidavit said.

Elmezayen, an Egyptian national, told investigators it was a tragic accident. He told them that he wasn’t sure how the car ended up in the water, but that he may have accidentally pressed the gas pedal or that “evil was inside him that caused him to lose his mind,” according to court documents.

The Los Angeles County district attorney declined to file charges against Elmezayen in 2017, citing a lack of evidence pointing to his intentionally driving off the dock.

An LAPD mechanic told prosecutors that the brakes on the car appeared to be malfunctioning after it was pulled from the water. It isn’t clear whether the problem with the brakes happened before the crash or was a result of salt water damage, according to a charge evaluation document.

But federal authorities say Elmezayen intentionally drove his family into the ocean to collect on accidental-death insurance policies he had taken out.

According to the affidavit, Elmezayen purchased several insurance policies providing more than $6 million in coverage on himself, Diab and all three of his children. His oldest son was on a school trip during the crash.

Authorities allege Elmezayen spent nearly $6,000 a year on the policies, despite the fact he earned less than $30,000 annually. He also called at least two of the insurance companies to confirm they would not investigate claims made two years after the policies were purchased. During some of these calls, authorities say, Elmezayen pretended to be Diab.

Insurance companies typically will investigate claims filed less than two years after the date the policy was bought to protect against fraud. The family’s car plunged into the water two years and 12 days after the last of the insurance policies was purchased, investigators said.

After his sons’ deaths, Elmezayen collected more than $260,000 in insurance proceeds from American General Life Insurance and Mutual of Omaha Life Insurance, despite telling investigators that he didn’t have any life insurance on his sons, according to the affidavit.

Authorities seized about $80,000 from his bank account and said he had wired the majority of the remaining funds to Egypt.

“This case alleges a calculated and cold-hearted scheme to profit off the deaths of two helpless children,” U.S. Atty. Nick Hanna said. “The alleged conduct shocks the conscience, and we will use every tool available to us to ensure that justice is done.”

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