What to Know
- A man is accused of intentionally driving his partner and two children off a pier to collect on insurance policies, prosecutors say.
- Ali F. Elmezayen, 44, of Hawthorne, faces nearly two-dozen federal counts, including mail and wire fraud ID theft, and money laundering.
- If convicted of all charges, he could spend the rest of his life in prison, prosecutors said.
A man accused of intentionally driving his domestic partner and two severely autistic children off a pier at the Port of Los Angeles to collect proceeds on accidental death insurance policies he had purchased on their lives pleaded not guilty Wednesday to updated federal charges.
Ali F. Elmezayen, 44, of Hawthorne, faces nearly two-dozen federal counts, including mail and wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
If convicted of all charges, he could spend the rest of his life in prison, prosecutors said. A status conference is scheduled for April 18 before U.S. District Judge John F. Walter in downtown Los Angeles.
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 then-domestic partner and his three children in 2012 and 2013, federal prosecutors allege.
He allegedly paid nearly $6,000 a year for the 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, 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, ages 8 and 13, were unable to escape the car and drowned, authorities said. 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 prosecutors.
"This case alleges a calculated and cold-hearted scheme to profit off the deaths of two helpless children," U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna alleged after Elmezayen was initially charged.
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Elmezayen's court-appointed defense attorney, Cuauhtemoc Ortega, said previously he would contest the charges. The murder allegations against Elmezayen did not fall under federal jurisdiction.
But the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office reviewed the case and declined to file charges against Elmezayen, 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 district attorney's charge evaluation document.
A judge ruled previously 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.