Lonnie Kocontes
Lonnie Kocontes

Lonnie Loren Kocontes Escaped Feds' Grip for Ex-Wife's Murder But Not OC Authorities'

The Orange County Sheriff's Department and District Attorney's office sent out press releases and OCDA Chief of Staff Susan Schroeder appeared in front of television news cameras Saturday with the stunning revelation a former Mission Viejo attorney had been arrested and charged with strangling his ex-wife and tossing her body over the side of a cruise ship off Italy in 2006.

It's even more remarkable when you consider local law enforcement did something the FBI tried and failed to do itself: arrest Lonnie Loren Kocontes for the murder of his ex-, Micki Kanesaki.

As my colleague R. Scott Moxley reported in November, the FBI and U.S. Attorney failed in the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana to secure a murder indictment against 55-year-old Kocontes and was even ordered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Marc L. Goldman to return $1 million the government had confiscated from the suspect's accounts.

Indeed, Goldman at that time chided the feds for its lack of evidence showing Kocontes killed Kanesaki for financial gain, declaring that the FBI's reasoning in the case was erroneous, stale, illogical and "circular." Click on Mox's post if you missed it to see the extent at which Goldman dissected the government's case against Kocontes:

Judge Slams FBI's Italian Cruise Ship Murder Case; Orders $1 Million Returned To OC Suspect

One thus wonder what local investigators turned up to supposedly prove beyond a shadow of a doubt Kocontes committed, as the charges suggest, felony special circumstances murder for financial gain that, with a conviction, brings a minimum sentence of life in a California state prison without the possibility of parole. The OCDA could also pursue the death penalty. Schroeder explained to the media over the weekend that her agency could pursue the case because the murder plot was hatched in Orange County.

A past Micki Kanesaki booking photo
A past Micki Kanesaki booking photo
Courtesy of OCSD

Kocontes and Kanesaki met while working at the same Los Angeles law firm, married in 1995 and struggled through a tumultuous relationship. They filed for divorce in 2000, but continued to live together. Police documented several times when Kanesaki became physically abusive to Kocontes. She was arrested for battery twice and forced to attend an anger management course. They reconciled in 2005 and Kocontes--who has a criminal record that includes illegal narcotics possession and burglary--booked the Island Escape cruise ship trip in May 2006, supposedly to patch things up once and for all. 

According to court records, the couple boarded the ship in Spain on May 23. Two evenings later as the cruise headed toward Naples from Sicily, they went to dinner before visiting the ship's casino and a late comedy show. After returning to their cabin, they each drank a glass of wine and Kocontes took an Ambien sleeping pill to help with lingering jet lag. He says he fell asleep after Kanesaki said she was going to the ship's café for tea sometime between midnight and 1 a.m. He awoke at 4:30 a.m. to find her bed had not been slept in and alerted the crew. Kocontes flew back to his home in California without Kanesaki the morning of May 28. That afternoon, her corpse was found floating off the Italian coast. 

An Italian autopsy concluded Kanesaki had likely been strangled to death.  The FBI pursued a case alleging he killed her and collected "criminally derived property" from subsequent death proceeds and the sale of the couple's California home that were held in a Safety Harbor, Florida, bank account.

Kocontes was arrested at his new home in Safety Harbor Friday by U.S. Marshals and Pinellas, Florida, sheriff's deputies. An OCDA statement on his looming extradition proceedings that will be followed by arraignment in the Orange County that's on this coast mentions that Kocontes' attempt with his new wife Katherine to move move than $1 million between various bank accounts--in other words, the transactions that the FBI and U.S. Attorney took before federal Judge Goldman--is part of the evidence that will be used locally against him in state court.

Federal prosecutors in 2010 "discussed the potential criminal case with the Orange County District Attorney's Office (OCDA) for possible review," reads the OCDA statement. "In 2012, the OCDA requested additional investigation on the case from the Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD), who discovered additional evidence related to the murder."

As we await the nature of that evidence, Kocontes is being held without bail, likely wishing he could hire Goldman to defend him. Meanwhile, the investigation continues, as the local agencies invite anyone with additional information related to the case to call Supervising District Attorney Investigator Randy Litwin at 714.347.8492 or sheriff's Investigator Don Voght at 714.647.7051.

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