Onlookers heard the tires screech as Ali F. Elmezayen’s car sped down a commercial fishing wharf and shot into the harbor at Los Angeles.
The Honda Civic quickly sank in 20-30 feet of murky salt water. His two severely autistic kids were tightly strapped in child seats. They never had a chance and drowned, still in their seats. His live-in partner Rabab Diab couldn’t swim. She was rescued by fisherman after escaping through an open window.
Elmezayen made no effort to help the kids or Diab before slipping out of the driver-side window to the surface.
What seemed like a horrible accident was a stone-cold murder. Elmezayen had bought more than $7 million of life insurance on his family. The accelerator pedal was his moment to start cashing in.
Elhassan (age 13) and Abdelkrim (age 8) needed high levels of medical care, including state support. Elmezayen merely smelled a profit center. He spent two years plotting to rid himself of them. So he bought seven life and accidental-death policies on himself, the kids’ lives and Diab.
Often called insurers
The Egyptian native earned less than $30,000 a year in wages. Yet he somehow found the money to pay more than $6,000 of insurance premiums annually to keep the policies afloat.
Elmezayen frequently called the insurers, posing as Diab. He kept asking the insurers to confirm they wouldn’t investigate for fraud if he made the claims two years after buying the policies. That’s the time window that life insurers typically require for investigating deaths of insureds.
“Oh, ok. The difference two years or not two years is you investigate it. You try to find out how I die. Right?” he asked in broken English in a recorded phone call with an insurer.
So sure enough, Elmezayen drove his car off the pier two years and 12 days after the policy purchases. That was just in time, he hoped, to stifle investigations and walk away with his money. He soon collected more than $260,000 on his sons’ lives, and wired $171,000 back to his native Egypt. He used part of the money to buy real estate there, and a boat.
Elmezayen garbled his stories when questioned after the kids died. He may have accidentally pressed the accelerator, he said. Or he may have passed out from medicines he took for a blood disorder. Or maybe he fell prey to an “evil inside of me that pushed me to go.”
At trial, prosecutors said Elmezayen beat Diab and phoned her parents in Egypt, “threatening to send her home in a coffin.” He was going to “bury her alive,” and wanted to take a second wife. He also tried to convince witnesses to lie to enforcement that he gave the insurance money to charity.
Sued carmaker, city
Even so, Elmezayen smelled yet more money. He and Diab sued the city of Los Angeles and other government entities. They alleged wrongful death and dangerous public properties. The pair also sued Honda and an auto-maintenance store, though the court ruled against them.
Elmezayen was convicted. He could receive up to 212 years in federal prison when sentenced. Diab isn’t charged at this point.
His intentions were clear during a call to an insurer. He didn’t realize it was being recorded. Elmezayen is heard in the background, speaking in Arabic with Diab. “May God compensate us for the kids. …” he said. “May God give us better than them.”
Federal prosecutors gave another perspective: “These two boys deserved a loving father,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna. “Instead they got a man who put his greed and self-interest above their lives.”
About the author: Jim Quiggle is director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud