SANTA ANA — A man was scheduled to be arraigned Monday at the Central Justice Center in Santa Anta on an indictment 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, 55, Safety Harbor, Fla., was indicted by a grand jury June 14. He is facing one felony count of special circumstances murder for financial gain. If convicted, he faces a minimum sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole and is eligible for the death penalty.
Kocontes did not enter a plea on Monday and was ordered to return to court on June 26 for arraignment. He has been denied bail.
His attorneys, James Bustamante and David Michael, claim that Orange County prosecutors do not have jurisdiction in this case. Following three days of arguments, Superior Court Judge William Evans sided with the defense and dismissed the case on May 31, but Senior Deputy District Attorney Susan Price of the Orange County District Attorney’s Homicide Unit immediately filed a new case against Kocontes, according to City News Service.
The District Attorney’s Office issued a press release on Feb 16 with the following information on the case:
In the early 1990s, Kocontes was working as an attorney for a law firm and met victim Micki Kanesaki, 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 flew with Kanesaki to Spain and boarded a cruise. On May 25, 2006, the couple took a day-time 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 or early in the morning of May 26 Kocontes is accused of murdering Kanesaki by strangling her and throwing her body overboard. He later reported her missing.
On the morning of May 27, 2006, Kocontes returned to California. 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 several of their bank accounts and property and receiving the 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. 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 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.
In 2010, USAO discussed the potential criminal case with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office for possible review. In 2012, the OCDA requested additional investigation on the case from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which discovered additional evidence related to the murder.
The OCDA filed the murder case against Kocontes on Feb. 13. 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.
The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with additional information is encouraged to contact Supervising District Attorney Investigator Randy Litwin at (714) 347-8492 or OCSD Investigator Don Voght at (714) 647-7051.