Safety Harbor resident charged with killing his ex-wife - WFLA News Channel 8

Seven year investigation lands Safety Harbor man in jail for murder

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Lonnie Kocontes residence in Safety Harbor Lonnie Kocontes residence in Safety Harbor

A California attorney, now living in Safety Harbor, could be sentenced to death for killing his ex-wife seven years ago.

US Marshals and local law enforcers teamed up Friday night to arrest Lonnie Kocontes, 55, in Pasco County. He is charged with killing his ex-wife, Micki Kanesaki, for financial gain. Orange County District Attorney Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder said Kocontes killed Kanesaki on a May 2006 cruise around Italy.

"Mr. Kocontes is accused of strangling his wife and then throwing her body overboard," said Schroeder.

FBI agents later discovered more than $1 million in illegal money transfers. Schroeder said Kocontes attempted to move the money from his ex-wife's accounts to accounts he set up with his new wife. The US Attorney's Office seized the money and the Orange County District Attorney's office began investigating the connection between the forfeiture and Kanesaki's death.

"We have charged a special circumstances first degree murder, which has a minimum penalty of life without the possibility of parole and with a special allegation that he did it for financial gain," said Schroeder.

Kocontes is eligible for the death penalty, according to Schroeder.

Four months after Kanesaki's body washed up on an Italian beach, Kocontes purchased a home in Safety Harbor, according to Pinellas County Property records. Neighbors said Kocontes spent time serving on the Cypress Hollow Homeowners Association board. Gary Schaaf said some neighbors were aware of allegations against Kocontes before he was arrested because they read articles about him online.

"A simple Google search revealed a lot of things," said Schaaf.  "You had to expect something might happen, so it was always in the back of our minds."

Kocontes previously served two stints in prison for burglary and drug charges. He was also charged with sexual acts and lewd conduct on a child under 16. That charge was later dropped after the girl became too distraught to testify, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Kocontes is being held without bail at the Pasco County Jail.  Schroeder said the Orange County District Attorney's office wants to extradite him to California for prosecution.

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