A former Mission Viejo lawyer accused of strangling his ex-wife and tossing her overboard from a cruise ship off the coast of Italy in 2006 was extradited from Florida overnight and now sits in an Orange County jail cell awaiting arraignment.
Police near Tampa arrested Lonnie Loren Kocontes, 55, in Pinellas County, Fla., in February. He is accused of killing Micki Kaneski, whose strangled body was found floating off Paola, Italy, after the ex-husband reported her missing from their ship.
The investigation began in 2008, when Kocontes, a former Ladera Ranch resident, began transferring more than $1 million from Kaneski’s bank accounts into joint accounts he held with his new wife, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s office. That prompted the FBI to begin seizure efforts and a criminal probe, prosecutors in Santa Ana said Saturday.
Kocontes and Kaneski were married in 1996, divorced in 2001, but sometimes lived together and had traveled to Europe, according to prosecutors. The man had reportedly told investigators his ex-wife had been suicidal as the pair toured Mediterranean ports.
“I wish I knew why” Kaneski had been in the ocean, he reportedly said after her body was recovered.
Kaneski was last seen alive at 11 p.m. May 25, 2006, and reported missing by Kocontes the next morning. He flew to California on May 27 and arrived here just about the same time that Kaneski’s body was recovered from the Mediterranean not far from Messina, Italy.
According to Orange County prosecutors, Kocontes in 2008 attempted to transfer more than $1 million from Kaneski’s bank accounts to joint accounts he held with his new wife, Katherine. The FBI and U.S. Attorney brought suit and froze the transfers.
In 2010, federal and state prosecutors began reviewing the apparent murder in Italian waters. Orange County sheriff’s deputies retrieved additional evidence last year, the DA’s office said.
Pinellas County deputies arrested Kocontes without incident at his home in Safety Harbor, Fla. In February. The California Bar Association reports that Kocontes has no record of disciplinary actions, and is licensed to practice law from his home in Florida. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday.
-City News Service contributed to this report.