Jury Selection Starts in Insurance Trial for Man Accused of Driving Autistic Sons Off Pier - NBC Southern California

Jury Selection Starts in Insurance Trial for Man Accused of Driving Autistic Sons Off Pier

Ali Elmezayen faces nearly two dozen counts, including mail and wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering, in connection with the alleged scheme to defraud insurance companies.

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    Jury Selection Starts in Insurance Trial for Man Accused of Driving Autistic Sons Off Pier
    NBCLA
    Rescuers with the Los Angeles Fire Department pulled two boys from a submerged vehicle on Thursday, April 9, 2015. One of the boys died; he was identified Friday.

    What to Know

    • Eli Elmezayen, 44, allegedly drove a car with his domestic partner and two youngest children off a wharf at the Port of Los Angeles in 2015.

    • Elmezayen was arrested by special agents with the FBI after being charged with defrauding insurance companies.

    • He has been charged separately with the deaths of his young sons, along with the attempted murder of his partner.

    Jury selection began Wednesday for the federal fraud trial of a Hawthorne man accused of intentionally driving his 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 connection with the alleged scheme to defraud insurance companies.

    More than 200 perspective jurors arrived at the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles this morning to begin the selection process, which is expected to last for two days or longer.

    Elmezayen, 44, allegedly drove a car with his domestic partner and two youngest children off a wharf at the Port of Los Angeles on April 9, 2015, 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.

    13-Year-Old Boy Dies When Car Sinks in Harbor

    [LA] 13-Year-Old Boy Dies When Car Sinks in Harbor
    A boy died and his brother was in critical condition after the family car plunged into the ocean at the LA Port. Jane Yamamoto reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Friday, April 10, 2015.
    (Published Friday, April 10, 2015)

    The defendant has been charged by Los Angeles County prosecutors with the deaths of his 13-year-old son, Elhassan, and his 8-year-old son, Abdelkrim, along with the attempted murder of his partner, but the federal case will proceed first.

    The defense is expected to argue that what happened 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 contends.

    Federal prosecutors allege 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. Recordings of the calls are expected to be played for the jury by prosecutors.

    Defense attorneys are expected to call on expert witnesses to testify that Elmezayen suffers from anxiety and attention-deficit disorders, which explain his "perceived need to buy copious amounts of life insurance on himself and his family," documents show.

    Elmezayen 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 federal prosecutors.

    Witnesses Recall Fatal Harbor Crash

    [LA] Witnesses Recall Fatal Harbor Crash
    "It looked like a movie," a witness said about the fatal crash that claimed the life of a 13-year-old boy when the car he was traveling in with his family plunged into the Port of Los Angeles.
    (Published Friday, April 10, 2015)

    "This case alleges a calculated and cold-hearted scheme to profit off the deaths of two helpless children," U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said after Elmezayen was initially charged.

    The murder allegations against Elmezayen did not fall under federal jurisdiction.

    The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office initially declined to file a case against him in December 2017, citing a lack of evidence proving he intentionally drove off the dock.

    A Los Angeles police mechanic told prosecutors that the brakes on the car appeared to be malfunctioning after it was pulled from the water. It wasn't evident whether the problem occurred before the crash or was a result of salt water damage, according to the charge evaluation worksheet from the District Attorney's Office.

    But further investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department's Harbor and Robbery-Homicide divisions and the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office resulted in the filing of state murder charges in July, according to the District Attorney's Office.

    Follow NBCLA for the latest LA news, events and entertainment:iPhone/iPad App | Facebook| Twitter | Google+ | Instagram | RSS | Email Alerts