What to Know
- Ali F. Elmezayen, 44, appeared in downtown Los Angeles before a U.S. magistrate judge.
- Elmezayen was arrested Nov. 7 by special agents with the FBI after being charged with defrauding insurance companies.
- He made his initial court appearance the next day, when he was ordered held without bond pending Tuesday's detention hearing.
A Hawthorne man Tuesday was ordered to remain behind bars pending trial on federal charges alleging that he intentionally drove his domestic partner and two severely autistic children off a pier into the ocean to collect proceeds on accidental death insurance policies he had purchased on their lives. Ali F. Elmezayen, 44, was arrested Nov. 7 by special agents with the FBI after being charged with defrauding insurance companies.
At the conclusion of a detention hearing Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles, U.S. Magistrate Judge Alka Sagar ruled that Elmezayen is a flight risk and a danger to his now former partner and remaining child -- on whose lives he continues to pay large insurance premiums. Elmezayen -- a native of Egypt with no legal status in the United States -- has access to "significant financial resources" in his native country, Sagar said.
"The risk of flight is a serious one in this case," the judge said from the bench, adding that Elmezayen poses a "risk of danger to the mother of his children and his oldest child."
According to a criminal complaint, Elmezayen purchased several accidental death insurance policies providing more than $6 million in coverage on himself, his then-domestic partner and his children in 2012 and 2013. He allegedly paid nearly $6,000 a year for these policies -- even though he was earning less than $30,000 a year -- and he called at least two of the insurance companies to confirm they would not investigate claims made two years after the policies were purchased.
On April 9, 2015 -- two years and 12 days after he bought the last of his insurance policies -- Elmezayen allegedly drove a car with his partner and two youngest children off a wharf at the Port of Los Angeles, according to federal prosecutors. He allegedly swam out the open driver's side window of the car, while his partner, who did not know how to swim, survived when a nearby fisherman threw her a flotation device.
The two children, ages 8 and 13, were unable to escape the car and drowned, authorities said. Elmezayen then collected more than $260,000 in insurance proceeds from American General Life Insurance and Mutual of Omaha Life Insurance on the accidental death insurance policies he had taken out on the children's lives, according to the complaint.
In addition to posing as his domestic partner in communications with the insurance companies without her knowledge, Elmezayen allegedly made several false statements, including stating that the cause of his children's deaths was accidental and that he had no other insurance policies on his children.
"This case alleges a calculated and cold-hearted scheme to profit off the deaths of two helpless children," U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said. "The alleged conduct shocks the conscience, and we will use every tool available to us to ensure that justice is done."
The criminal complaint specifically charges Elmezayen with mail fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for posing as his domestic partner in calls to the insurance companies.
Elmezayen's federal public defense attorney, Cuauhtemoc Ortega, told the court Tuesday that he would contest the allegations, saying he was "surprised" there haven't been state murder charges filed against his client.
The case was declined for prosecution by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office last December for "insufficient evidence," spokesman Greg Risling said. During a previous court hearing, Elmezayen was ordered to appear for a post-indictment arraignment on Nov. 29.
If he were to be convicted of the charges in the complaint, Elmezayen would face up to 20 years in federal prison for each of the fraud counts.
The charge of aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory consecutive sentence of two years in prison.