Driving instructor is charged with molesting 16-year-old La Jolla student during lesson

Scales of justice

A San Diego-based driving instructor has been charged with molesting a 16-year-old girl who was taking lessons from him and is a student in La Jolla.

According to court documents, Mohammad Mashal, 44, picked up the girl — identified only as Jane Doe — at her school Sept. 30 for a behind-the-wheel lesson and was supposed to drop her off at her home afterward. Her school was not identified by name but is on La Jolla Boulevard, according to the documents.

The driving lesson was through Academic Driving School, which says it has trained more than 10,000 drivers and is licensed by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Instructors and all technical and administrative staff have “a valid security background check,” according to the company.

“The lesson began with the victim driving the defendant around the La Jolla area for approximately 15 to 20 minutes,” according to a declaration in support of an arrest warrant by Cameron Haas, a San Diego deputy city attorney. “After that time, the defendant instructed the victim to head toward the Mission Bay area. On the way to Mission Bay, the defendant began making comments about the victim’s appearance … [and] that the victim looked like an Asian Barbie.”

He also reportedly asked her about her relationship status, sexual history, age and other personal inquiries.

Court documents allege that while in the parking lot near Mission Bay Golf Course, Mashal began massaging the girl’s hands, arms, “her thigh under her skirt” and other areas. Later, according to the documents, he touched the teen’s back under her shirt, squeezed her thigh and kissed her hand.

The teen “flinched,” according to Haas’ report, and Mashal instructed her to start driving home.

The teen “asked if she could be dropped off at a local cafe instead of her home,” according to Haas. “She made this request because she did not want the defendant to see where she lived. [She] text-messaged a friend and eventually met with the friend at the cafe.”

Mashal was later charged with child molestation, false imprisonment and battery. He was arraigned May 25, and his next court date is July 5. He currently is not in custody.

Mashal’s attorney, Ari Lieberman of Sevens Legal in San Diego, said Mashal “denies engaging in any sort of inappropriate conduct with this student.”

“Mr. Mashal is married with three children. He works very hard as the sole earner of his family and supports them financially. He would never risk or even think about doing anything to put his family’s life in jeopardy,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman added that Mashal has trained more than 500 students as a driving instructor. He did not say whether Mashal is still employed at Academic Driving School. The school directed all questions to Lieberman.

“His employer has said nothing other than positive things about Mr. Mashal,” said Lieberman, who added that Mashal “has completed approximately 5,000 rides with Uber and is rated at 4.95 stars. Mr. Mashal was previously employed at a community college. He worked directly with students. His former employer also provided excellent feedback about Mr. Mashal’s interactions with students. These allegations are extremely inconsistent with his employment history and reputation.” ◆