LOS ANGELES — A former California attorney has been arrested on suspicion of killing his ex-wife for financial gain in 2006 by strangling her and throwing her overboard while on a cruise along the Italian coast, authorities said.
Lonnie Kocontes, 55, a former Mission Viejo, Calif., resident, was arrested Friday at his home in Safety Harbor, Fla., in connection with the death of Micki Kanesaki, 52, of Ladera Ranch, Calif., authorities said. He is charged with one felony count of special circumstances for financial gain.
If convicted, he would face a maximum sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole and would be eligible for the death penalty, authorities said. Kocontes, who is being held without bail, faces extradition proceedings at a date to be determined.
He is accused of financially benefiting from Kanesaki’s death because he was the beneficiary of several of their bank accounts and was receiving the proceeds from the sale of their home, authorities said.
The couple divorced in 2001 and were in the midst of a court battle when they decided to put aside their rancor and take a Mediterranean vacation together.
Kocontes is suspected of killing his wife on the night of May 25, 2006, or the morning of May 26, by strangling her and throwing her body overboard, authorities said.
At the time, Kocontes reported his wife missing. He told authorities that the couple had been in bed when about 1 a.m. Kanesaki stepped out to get a cup of tea to help her relax and never returned.
Her body was found on the morning of May 27 by the Italian coast guard, floating in the sea near Reggio di Calabria.
“I wish I knew what happened,” Kocontes was quoted as saying at the time. He told authorities that his former wife had previously talked of suicide.
But an autopsy revealed Kanesaki had been strangled, authorities said.
Kocontes is accused of attempting to transfer $1 million between various banks accounts with his new wife, Katherine, in 2008, authorities said. The FBI began investigating the money transfers for possible illegal activity, and the U.S. attorney’s office ultimately seized the money from Kocontes’ bank account. A civil asset forfeiture case was subsequently filed in U.S. District Court in California.
The Orange County district attorney’s office was contacted about the case and subsequently the county Sheriff’s Department relaunched its criminal investigation, authorities said.
On Wednesday, the district attorney’s office filed its murder case against Kocontes.
The FBI and the Sheriff’s Department are continuing the investigation.