Lonnie Kocontes' Love Boat

The Irvine lawyer escaped charges he murdered his ex-wife. Then another ex-wife and a friend turned on him

In the wake of that OCDA-orchestrated meeting, Nguyen discovered she possessed previously unaired details about the murder as well as newfound enthusiasm for Kocontes' guilt. She agreed to testify for the government in exchange for immunity and sought guarantees the public would never learn details of her life. In June 2013, Nguyen's latest version of the truth secured her ex-husband's state indictment for the six-year-old killing of her competitor.

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Though prosecutors believe Kocontes sinisterly arranged the cruise trip as a backdrop for Kanesaki's murder, the idea of taking the late-May 2006 vacation wasn't his. Bill Price, the PI, made the recommendation. His motive wasn't murder; it was reconciliation.

Cameron K. Lewis
Cameron K. Lewis

Kocontes and Kanesaki got married in 1995, when they both worked at the Los Angeles law firm O'Melveny & Myers. She was an administrative assistant, and he served as an attorney for corporate clients such as Land Rover North America Inc. In 2001, after moving to Orange County, the couple divorced, but still maintained a shared, if volatile, life together inside a $750,000 Maybeck Lane home in Ladera Ranch.

Price thought a 2006 cruise might ease tensions for the couple. At the time, Kanesaki, who'd quit her $40,000-per-year job, received several thousand dollars each month in state disability checks for arthritic fingers. Photographs depict a sweet woman, but, as reflected in several police contacts, she used booze to fuel angry outbursts against Kocontes, a workaholic who rarely drank. Their divorce occurred after she learned he'd been arrested in Pasadena for allegedly having sex in a motel with a 15-year-old Asian girl parading as an adult. According to Price, Kanasaki's resentment never subsided even though cops dropped the charges after determining the girl operated a fake-victim scam that also ensnared a police officer.

"It was [Kanesaki's] determination to make him miserable [about the incident]," Price told the FBI in July 2006. "She wasn't going to let that go to save her life. And he kept saying, 'I'm innocent.' Um, it was an ongoing battle that she couldn't get past. So when she drank, when she had her glass of wine, you can rest assured that was the first thing that was going to pop up."

In mid-2005, the resentment worsened when the attorney moved out, married Nguyen, bought his new wife a $1 million Orange County home as well as a new Lexus S330, and paid off her $17,000 credit-card debt. About two months into that marriage, Kocontes came home from work one night and smelled an unfamiliar men's cologne on their bed sheets. Nguyen, who'd met Kocontes in about 2003 on, admitted to the federal grand jury she saw an ex-boyfriend in a strip mall parking lot and decided to have "revenge" sex with him because she assumed without proof that Kocontes had been sleeping with a legal assistant. The attorney moved out, relocated back to Ladera Ranch with Kanesaki and, after a less-than-three-month marriage, filed for divorce from the near-penniless Nguyen, who labeled him "cheap" for not letting her keep the home he bought for them.

In the wake of that fiasco, Kocontes—who consistently earned more than $100,000 annually—and Kanesaki tried to repair their relationship. They began attending counseling sessions and named each other the sole beneficiary in December 2005 wills. However, frictions remained.

In his initial FBI interview, Largo, Florida-based PI Price recalled numerous times in late 2005 and early 2006 when a frustrated Kocontes called. During some of these conversations, he heard Kanesaki screaming and breaking household items in the background. The PI called her a "mean" drunk, but a person "Lonnie cared about."

Susan McQueen—Price's girlfriend and also a PI who met Kocontes on the job and respected his skills—told the FBI that Kanesaki "became nasty and embarrassing" when she drank. McQueen decided to forgo future rendezvous after a few dinner dates with the couple. She also remembered an alarming phone conversation with the attorney. "She's flying off the deep end," McQueen recalled Kocontes saying. "She's throwing and breaking a lot of things." Another time, Kocontes called because Kanesaki was on one of "her tangents," had "thrown, like, a computer out the window," and "broke other things and had thrown some things" at him. "I think he thought he needed stitches," McQueen told the FBI agent.

In January 2006, Price spoke on the phone with Kanesaki, who'd been calling Kocontes "every name in the book." That same month, police arrested her for committing domestic violence against the attorney. A judge ordered Kanesaki to enroll in anger-management classes and attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She might have needed additional therapy had she known Nguyen's sex life with Kocontes hadn't ended.

To relax Kanesaki, Price suggested she go on a trip with Kocontes to her native Japan, but she didn't want to travel there. Next, he recommended what he and McQueen did to relax: a Mediterranean cruise. She replied she didn't think Kocontes would spend the money. Not only did the attorney agree to go, but he also invited Price and McQueen to join them. The Florida couple declined.

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Built with $100 million in France in 1981, the present-day MS Island Escape began its existence as the world's largest car/cargo ferry under a different name. In 1991, the owners converted her into a 623-foot cruiser with 768 cabins at the San Diego shipyards. Though there are three restaurants, six bars, a cyber-café, a theater, a spa, several shops, a salon, a pool and a casino, the boat is marketed to travelers as a "cheap and cheerful," three-star voyage to various Mediterranean ports. Advertisements for the operation used a song with the lyrics "We're going bananas!"

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