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Celeb chef's neighbors stunned by murder plot

May 16, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Neighbor of TV chef Juan-Carlos Cruz say they can't believe the murder-for-hire charges against the man they describe as a great guy.Those who know the celebrity cook say it sounds too farfetched to be true.

"What he's charged with is absolutely unbelievable," said Marlene Klansek, the president of the homeowner's association at Cruz's condo complex.

Santa Monica police arrested Cruz after homeless men on the Third Street Promenade came forward alleging that the TV chef tried to pay them to commit murder.

"As a result of their information and our further investigation, we found out more about the methodology, the who, what, where, how, the payments, who the intended victim was going to be," said Sgt. Jay Trisler of Santa Monica police.

Police say that undercover detectives gathered the proof they needed to arrest Cruz last Thursday. His West L.A. neighbors do not believe that he's capable of such crimes.

"Juan volunteers a lot, they got two service dogs, and they volunteer at hospitals for kids, and they're just good people and it's a tragedy," said Cruz's neighbor John Ryan.

Cruz gained notoriety when he lost weight and began hosting the TV show, "Calorie Commando" and "Take It Off." He also wrote a cook book and was about to publish a new cook book called, "The Love Diet" featuring recipes to boost your sex drive. At the condo he shares with his wife of many years, there was no answer Sunday.

Klansek said that Cruz has always been helpful and friendly.

"He's never been angry in my presence. He's just a nice neighbor," she said.

"This is very out of character for Juan," said Cruz's friend Chris Cognac. "The guy has a heart of gold."

Cognac said he was shocked by his friend's arrest.

"And to hire homeless guys? I don't know. I wonder about what his mental state at the time was because that's not the most brilliant thing to do," said Cognac.

Cruz is being held on $5 million bail. He's scheduled to be arraigned Monday.


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