A man whose two sons with autism drowned after the family's car plunged off a dock in San Pedro four years ago was charged Wednesday with capital murder, as prosecutors allege he killed the boys for financial gain.
In addition to the two murder counts, 44-year-old Ali Elmezayen has also been charged with attempted murder, according to a news release from the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.
He also faces special circumstance allegations including multiple murders and that the killings were carried out for financial gain, making him potentially eligible for the death penalty.
Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek a death sentence in the case.
The defendant was allegedly driving with his wife and their two sons in San Pedro on April 9, 2015, when the car plummeted off a Port of Los Angeles berth and into the water below, according to the DA's release.
The boys -- 13-year-old Elhassan and 8-year-old Abdelkrim -- were unable to escape as water quickly filled up the vehicle. Both died.
Elmezayen got out through the driver's side window and swam to safety; his wife, Rabab Diab, was rescued when a fisherman threw her a floatation device, officials said.
One day after the fatal incident, Elmezayen told KTLA the crash was a "really bad accident." He said he stopped the car at Berth 73 so the family could take in the ocean view as sunset approached.
When he tried to park by the water, the car "didn't stop," he said. "I don't know how this happened."
More than three years later, Elmezayen was arrested on insurance fraud charges related to the same incident. He was already in federal custody when the DA's office filed the murder charges against him.
Federal prosecutors alleged Elmezayen intentionally drove the car off the dock two years after purchasing the last of his accidental death insurance policies.
During an investigation into the deadly crash, the father told the Los Angeles Police Department that he did not have insurance policies on his sons, who had severe autism, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.
But he was found to have purchased several accidental death insurance policies worth more than $6 million in coverage for himself, Diab and their three children between 2012 and 2013, the criminal complaint stated.
Elmezayen collected over $260,000 in insurance after the deaths, which were at first believed to be accidental, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
He is also accused of posing as Diab when communicating with the insurance companies and making false statements.
The FBI arrested Elmezayen on Nov. 7, 2018. He was charged with mail and wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft.
The defendant will be tried on the murder charges once the federal case is completed, according to the DA's office.
If prosecutors don't seek the death penalty, Elmezayen faces the possibility of life in prison without parole if convicted as charged.