SAN PEDRO, Calif. — Rabab Diab remembers screaming as the Honda Civic carrying her and her two severely autistic young sons careened off the edge of a wharf the afternoon of April 9, 2015, and into the waters of the Port of Los Angeles.
Moments later, Diab fought her way out of the passenger seat and to the surface, where she floundered, unable to swim.
“My kids! My kids!” Diab screamed as a fisherman threw her a life preserver.
Her husband and father of her three sons, Ali Elmezayen, escaped the submerged car through his open driver’s side window and climbed a ladder to safety. According to witnesses, Elmezayen watched silently as stunned workers scrambled to get to his sons, Elhassan, 13, and 8-year-old Abdelkarim.
Watch a report on the case below, courtesy of ABC 7 in Los Angeles.
He did nothing to help either Diab or his sons, who remained strapped into the back seat of the car about 30 feet underwater. Los Angeles Fire Department divers pulled Elhassan and Abdelkarim from the water, and they were rushed to a hospital, where both died.
On Thursday, Elmezayen, 45, of Hawthorne, was sentenced to 212 years in federal prison in connection with their deaths.
“He is the ultimate phony and a skillful liar … and is nothing more than a greedy and brutal killer,” U.S. District Judge John F. Walter said, according to prosecutors. “The only regret that the defendant has is that he got caught.”
Prosecutors argued at his 2019 trial that the Egyptian-born Elmezayen killed his sons, and attempted to kill their mother, in order to collect more than $3 million in life insurance policies he had taken out on their lives over a span of years.
The fatal crash took place 12 days after the two-year contestability period expired on the last of the insurance policies, authorities found.
Elmezayen’s surviving son, Elhussein Elmezayen, spoke directly to his father, who glared at him in court Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported. Now 20, Elhussein Elmezayen was on a high school overnight trip when his brothers were killed.
The young man accused his father of leaving him and his mother in “misery and poverty” while sending cash to his “lowlife” family overseas, including life insurance proceeds stemming from the fatal crash.
Federal authorities said Elmezayen wired most of the money to Egypt to hide it from his wife. He used part of the proceeds to buy a house and a boat.
“I hope you know I don’t want anything to do with you anymore,” Elhussein Elmezayen said, according to the Times. “Don’t call me. Don’t write me.”
Federal prosecutors did not charge Elmezayen with the younger boys’ murders, citing a lack of jurisdiction on those charges. He was convicted of mail and wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering.
“Fathers are supposed to protect their children but instead, Elmezayen drove his boys straight to their certain death in exchange for cash,” Kristi Johnson, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said in a statement. “The defendant maliciously planned the death of his autistic sons and gave them virtually no chance of survival.
“The investigation that led to today’s sentencing won’t give them their lives, but affords them justice in death.”
Los Angeles County prosecutors initially declined to prosecute Elmezayen for murder, citing a lack of evidence. The Times reported that they reversed course and charged Elmezayen with capital murder and attempted murder after he was indicted by a federal grand jury.
A spokesman for District Attorney George Gascon told the newspaper that the office was evaluating its next steps following Elmezayen’s federal sentencing.
Bankruptcy and financial troubles
A federal criminal complaint filed in October 2018 lays out the case against Elmezayen, who authorities said began to plan his family’s killings three years before the crash. Elmezayen and his wife, who met in Egypt and were married in 1999, immigrated to the U.S. in 2000 on visitor visas.
They attempted to stay in the country by divorcing to marry American citizens for green cards, but remained together as a couple. According to the Times, Diab testified at her husband’s trial that she was subjected for years to physical and emotional abuse.
Their oldest son, who also testified about his father’s abuse, was born in Egypt, but the two younger boys were born in the U.S.
All three of their sons were diagnosed as having autism, but Elhussein Elmezayen is described in court documents as “high-functioning.”
Elhassan and Abdelkarim were “extremely low-functioning.” The Times reported that both boys were hyperactive and wore diapers.
The family struggled financially, and Elmezayen filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October 2010, the complaint states. The bankruptcy was discharged two years later.
Between July 2012 and March 2013, Elmezayen obtained seven accidental death and life insurance policies on himself and his wife, and two policies on the lives of their three sons. The coverage for Elmezayen was $3.6 million, and the combined coverage on Diab and the boys was just under $3.1 million.
According to court records, Elmezayen paid nearly $6,000 in annual premiums on those policies — despite claiming under $25,000 in income in 2011. Diab worked as a homemaker.
Diab told authorities after her sons’ deaths that she was not aware that her husband had taken out policies on the boys’ lives. She said Elmezayen typically prepared insurance documents and gave her the paperwork to sign.
Elmezayen was accused of calling some of the insurance companies multiple times, sometimes pretending to be Diab, to confirm that the policies remained in effect and to determine the time period in which insurance investigators would question a claim.
Several of them contained provisions that required a probe if a claim was made within the first two years of the policy.
Those phone calls were recorded, the records show.
“What happened if (it was) one day before two years?” Elmezayen asked in one call about a policy on Diab’s life.
The company representative said that a suspicious death within the first two years would trigger an investigation.
“Oh, OK. The difference, two years or not two years, is you investigate it. You try to find out how I die, right?” Elmezayen asked.
In a separate call to another company, Elmezayen, still posing as his wife, confirmed that after the initial two-year period, the company would pay out a claim even if the death was by suicide.
Following the crash that killed Elhassan and Abdelkarim, their father lied to police about the policies, claiming that he had no life insurance on the children.
‘May God compensate us for the kids’
The afternoon of the April 9, 2015, crash, Elmezayen drove his wife and two youngest sons to Berth 73 at the Port of Los Angeles. He told authorities they planned to walk around, buy fish from the nearby fish market and watch a large boat leave the main channel of the port.
Elmezayen was familiar with the port because he once worked there as a security guard, the criminal complaint states.
The parking along Berth 73 is not public, however, and is reserved for permit holders. The berth also has no retail shops or walking paths and is separated from the main channel by another dock, which contains the Ports O’Call Village, a development of businesses, restaurants and walking paths.
“The view of ships on the main channel from Berth 73 is obstructed by the fishing boats docked at Berth 73, and by the buildings in the Ports O’Call Village,” the affidavit states.
According to Elmezayen and Diab’s statements, as well as those of witnesses, Elmezayen entered the Berth 73 parking area from the east end and drove nearly the entire length of the wharf before pulling into a parking spot. He had passed multiple empty parking spots with a clear view of the channel to park in one with an obstructed view.
Video shot the night of the crash showed that the spot Elmezayen chose was the first one from which a vehicle could drive into the water without being impeded by boats, fishing nets or other items sitting on the wharf, according to court documents.
“After turning right into a parking spot and slowing down approximately 30 feet from the water’s edge, Elmezayen accelerated,” the complaint states. “Witnesses heard the tires of the car screech loudly and saw the car accelerate before it flew off the edge of the wharf, crashed into the water and immediately sunk.”
Read the criminal complaint against Ali Elmezayen below.
When questioned later that night, Elmezayen said he did not know why or how he drove the car off the wharf. He said it could have been due to medication for Thalassemia minor, which causes mild anemia.
Elmezayen also said the crash could have been the result of hitting the accelerator instead of the brake or that he might have “an evil inside (him) that pushed (him) to go.”
Detectives asked if he crashed the car on purpose and he denied it, but said the “evil” could be “like you’re doing something, but it’s not you.”
In her interview with police, Diab told detectives the family had eaten dinner at an Inglewood restaurant before Elmezayen suggested the trip to the port to view the water and buy fresh fish.
“She said she saw a big boat in the ocean and was watching it when she felt Elmezayen lose control of the car,” the complaint states. “She said she thought he was about to park the car, but then he suddenly accelerated.”
She screamed for him to stop as the car flew into the water, bobbed a couple of times and sank.
“I started to feel that death is very close,” Diab testified at her husband’s trial. “So I started to recite my prayers.”
After their individual police interviews, Elmezayen and Diab spoke to one another at the police station. They did not realize that their conversation, spoken in Arabic, was still being recorded.
“What did you tell them?” Elmezayen asked his wife, according to a translation.
“Nothing. The car lost the control and fell into the ocean,” she responded.
“OK, that’s great. That’s great,” Elmezayen said.
He told Diab his explanation about a devil driving the car and pondered whether they should let police search their home. At one point, he appeared to coach Diab about how she should answer additional questions.
Diab asked her husband if their sons were in the hospital.
“Yes, Rabab, may God compensate us for the kids,” Elmezayen said, according to the records. “May God give us better than them.”
After their interviews were complete, investigators offered to drive the couple to the hospital, where Abdelkarim remained on life support. Diab went to the hospital.
Elmezayen went home without going to see his son.
“Let’s go home. What happened has happened,” he told his wife.
After the boys’ deaths, Elmezayen ultimately collected more than $260,000 in insurance payouts from Mutual of Omaha and American General. Federal investigators spent the next three years building a case against him, and he was arrested in November 2018.
“(Elmezayen) murdered his disabled children and attempted to murder his ex-wife for money,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum. “After years of physically and emotionally abusing his ex-wife and neglecting the children, (Elmezayen) bought $3.4 million in insurance on their lives, waited for two years so the insurance companies would not contest his claims, and then drove them into the ocean, leaving them to drown.”