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Calif. man arrested in Fla. in ex-wife's death

  • Associated Press
  • February 16, 2013 - 2:58 PM

WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. - A California man has been arrested in southwest Florida on an outstanding murder warrant in the death of his ex-wife, who went overboard from an Italian cruise ship seven years ago.

Lonnie Kocontes, 55, was taken into custody Friday night by federal marshals and booked into the Pasco County Jail where he was being held without bail, authorities said.

He was charged with one count of special circumstances murder for financial gain, according to Farrah Emami, a spokeswoman for the Orange County District Attorney's office.

Kocontes' ex-wife, Micki Kanesaki, plunged into the Mediterranean on May 26, 2006, off the Island Escape, which was sailing between Sicily and Naples, according to the FBI. Her body washed ashore the next day in Calabria in southwest Italy.

Kanesaki, 52, was sharing a cabin with Kocontes, her ex-husband. They divorced in 2002 after six years of marriage but lived together in their Mission Viejo, Calif., home until 2005, court records showed.

Kanesaki left the cabin around 1 a.m. to get a cup of tea, Andy Furlong, a spokesman for ship owner Island Cruises, said at the time. Kocontes, a lawyer, reported her missing after he woke up and couldn't find her after a search, Furlong said.

Italian police boarded the ship, seized records and videotapes and took statements from the crew.

Prosecutors said Saturday that Kocontes strangled Kaneski to death on board the ship and then threw her overboard.

The arrest ended an investigation that started in 2008, when Kocontes began transferring more than $1 million from Kaneski's bank accounts into joint accounts he held with his new wife. That prompted the FBI to begin seizure efforts and a criminal probe, prosecutors said.

Kanesaki's mother, Setsuko Kanesaki, said her daughter was in good spirits before the cruise.

"I can't imagine what happened to her. There's no reason to believe it was a suicide," she told the Orange County Register in 2006.

It was unclear Saturday whether Kocontes has retained an attorney. Plans were being made to extradite him to Southern California.

If convicted, Kocontes faces a minimum sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole and is eligible for the death penalty, Emami said.

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