Closing arguments are expected Tuesday morning in the federal insurance fraud trial of a Hawthorne man accused of intentionally driving his ex-wife and two severely autistic sons off a pier at the Port of Los Angeles to collect on accidental death policies.
Ali Elmezayen faces nearly two-dozen counts, including mail and wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering, in Los Angeles federal court in connection with the alleged scheme to defraud insurance companies.
He has also been charged by Los Angeles County prosecutors with the April 9, 2015, deaths of his 13-year-old son, Elhassan, and his 8-year-old son, Abdelkarim, along with the attempted murder of his ex-wife, who was able to escape from the car — but the federal case went first.
Elmezayen, 45, allegedly drove a car with his partner and two youngest children off a wharf at the Port of Los Angeles and escaped by swimming out the open driver’s side window. His partner, who did not know how to swim, survived when a nearby fisherman threw her a flotation device, but the two children were unable to escape the car and drowned.
The defense is expected to argue that the incident was the result of “pedal error” — when a driver, intending to step on the brakes, accidentally hits the accelerator instead. Distractions, both inside and outside Elmezayen’s 1998 Honda Civic, complicated the situation, the defense alleged.
Federal prosecutors contend that Elmezayen — a native of Egypt with no legal status in the United States — purchased several accidental death insurance policies providing more than $6 million in coverage on himself, his domestic partner and his three children in 2012 and 2013.
He allegedly paid nearly $6,000 a year for the policies — even though he was earning less than $30,000 a year — and he purportedly called at least two of the insurance companies to confirm they would not investigate claims made two years after the policies were purchased.
Elmezayen’s ex-wife, Rehab Diab, testified that on the day of the incident, the defendant took the family for a drive to the port to buy fish and look at ships. He began searching for a parking spot but inexplicably pointed the vehicle toward the murky ocean and sped off the pier, she told the jury.
“I thought he would stop, but the car accelerated towards the sea and I started to scream,” Diab told jurors, adding that Elmezayen did not apply the brakes or utter a sound.
When the car containing Diab and their two sons hit the water, the defendant “went out through the window,” making no effort to help anyone in the submerged vehicle, the woman testified.
“I started to feel that death was close and started to recite my prayers,” Diab said. “The only thing I remember is I managed to get out of the car.”
A third son was not in the vehicle and followed his mother on the witness stand last week to describe Elmezayen’s often violent relationship with Diab.
Elmezayen’s attorney, Christy O’Connor, denied there was a scheme to commit murder for financial gain. Instead, she alleged, her client loved his family but suffers from hypochondria and severe anxiety about the future — which explains his purchase of copious amounts of life insurance.
Diab told the jury that the family suffered from money problems so severe that they once lived in a dilapidated house in Watts. Diab said both she and her then-husband worked for a time as security guards and also received $2,500 a month from the state to care for the two disabled children.
The defendant did not take the stand.
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