SANTA ANA — A man was charged May 11 for solicitation to commit murder and bribing a witness while in custody on a charge for murdering his ex-wife for financial gain by strangling her to death and throwing her overboard while on a cruise in Italy.
Lonnie Loren Kocontes, 57, Safety Harbor, Fla., has been charged with two felony counts of solicitation to commit murder and one felony count of solicitation to bribe a witness. He was previously charged with one felony count of special-circumstances murder for financial gain.
If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 11 years and eight months in state prison for these new charges. He faces a maximum sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole for the special-circumstances murder charge.
While being held at the Orange County Jail, Kocontes is accused of drafting a letter for his former wife and witness, identified only as Jane Doe (third wife), to sign a letter stating that her testimony to the federal grand jury in 2006 was truthful and that her testimony to the Orange County grand jury in 2013 was a lie.
Kocontes is accused of including in the letter that Jane Doe was threatened by law enforcement to lie to the Orange County grand jury in 2013.
Between February and July 2014, while remaining in custody at the Orange County Jail, Kocontes is accused of soliciting two inmates to have Jane Doe personally sign that letter and then murder her. The defendant is accused of planning to pay a sum of money to the inmates to solicit Jane Doe for her signature and then offering the inmates an additional amount of money if they murdered her.
On April 21, 2014, one of the inmates, through his attorney, reported the crime to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA). Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) detectives began investigating these new allegations the next day and completed their investigation in November 2014.
In the early 1990s, Kocontes was working as an attorney for a law firm and met victim Micki Kanesaki (second wife), who worked as a paralegal for the same firm. They married in 1995. The couple divorced in 2001, but lived together off and on through 2006.
On May 21, 2006, the defendant is accused of flying with Kanesaki to Spain and boarding a cruise. On May 25, 2006, the couple took a daytime excursion and toured the town of Messina, Italy. The couple returned to the ship and Kanesaki was last seen alive at approximately 11 p.m.
Late on the night of May 25, 2006, or early in the morning of May 26, 2006, Kocontes is accused of murdering Kanesaki by strangling her to death and throwing her body overboard into the ocean. He is later accused of reporting her missing.
On the morning of May 27, 2006, Kocontes returned to California, and went directly to the home of his mistress, Jane Doe. Kanesaki’s body was discovered floating off the coast of Paola, Italy, later that day.
Kocontes is accused of financially benefiting from the victim’s murder by being the beneficiary of her estate and receiving the full proceeds from the sale of their home.
In 2008, Kocontes is accused of attempting to move over $1 million between various bank accounts with his new wife, Katherine K. (fourth wife). The FBI, which had investigated the death of Kanesaki, began investigating the money transfers for possible illegal activity and the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) and ultimately seized the money from Kocontes’ bank accounts.
A civil asset forfeiture case was subsequently filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and is currently pending.
In 2011, USAO discussed the potential criminal case with the OCDA for possible review. In 2012, the OCDA requested assistance on the case from OCSD. OCSD became the lead investigating agency on this case and through its follow-up investigation, discovered additional evidence related to the murder.
The OCDA filed the murder case against Kocontes on Feb. 13, 2013. OCSD, U.S. Marshals Florida Regional Fugitive Task Force, and Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department investigators arrested the defendant in Safety Harbor, Fla., on Feb. 15, 2013.
The FBI and OCSD investigated this case. Assistant Head of Court Susan Price of the Appellate and Training Unit and Deputy District Attorney Seton Hunt, both formerly of the Homicide Unit, are prosecuting this case.
Defense Attorney’s Response
Kocontes’ defense attorney, David Michael, told City News Service, “These charges are a continuation of the corrupt practices of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the use of lying informants.”
He was referring to allegations of governmental misconduct in the use of jailhouse snitches in the case against the worst mass killer in Orange County history, Scott Dekraai, which led an Orange County Superior Court judge to boot the District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting the defendant.
Michael alleged the case against Kocontes has also included “false” and “perjured” testimony, as well as a “bungled” attempt by investigators to entice him to implicate himself.
The attorney contended that prosecutors have lodged the new allegations against his client to help sway Fourth District Court of Appeals justices who are considering a new review of efforts to dismiss the case against the defendant.
“By going public, they’re trying to influence the courts,” Michael said.
He argued the claims against Kocontes are baseless. “There’s not one bit of documented evidence to show Lonnie Kocontes wanted (the witness) killed. What you end up with is two criminals — two informants — saying that he did it. That’s all you’ve got. It’s one of those typically bizarre, last-gasp, desperate attempts by a prosecutor to make a case.”
Kocontes’ jail cell was wired for 15 days, but “they got nothing,” according to Michael, who said an investigator engaged in a “bungled attempt” to get the defendant to “join a conspiracy that they concocted.”
Price told CNS that “the case before us now is completely dissimilar to the Dekraai case.”
The only reason prosecutors knew of the attempted murder-for-hire allegations is because one of the inmates came forward to authorities, Price said.
“The defendant found himself in custody and in the company of people he believed would effectively accomplish this goal of getting a witness to change her testimony and make her disappear,” Price said.
Price said she has committed to keeping both cases separate. The evidence collected in the attempted murder-for-hire allegations won’t be used in the murder trial, she said.