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TV chef pleads not guilty to attempted murder

In this undated photo provided by the Santa Monica Police Department, Juan-Carlos Cruz is shown. Santa Monica police say Cruz, a television chef who once hosted a program on the Food Network, has been arrested for allegedly trying to solicit homeless people to commit a murder. (Santa Monica Police Department)

May 17, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A celebrity chef who allegedly tried to hire two homeless men to kill his wife pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of attempted murder and solicitation of murder. Unshaven and in handcuffs, 48-year-old Juan-Carlos Cruz entered the pleas during his first court appearance at the Airport Branch Courthouse in Los Angeles.

Prosecutors allege Cruz solicited two homeless men to kill his wife, Jennifer Campbell.

Cruz, who hosted the Food Network program "Calorie Commando" in 2004, was taken into police custody on Thursday following a weeklong investigation. Police said they were tipped off by two homeless men on May 7.

The individuals agreed to help Santa Monica police. Detectives planted hidden microphones on the homeless men to record incriminating conversations with Cruz. During the investigation, they learned the murder-for-hire method, the time and place the intended victim was to be killed and the terms of payment, according to Santa Monica police Sgt. Jay Trisler.

When asked by TMZ what Cruz asked them to do, one man said, "To cut this woman's throat."

The men told TMZ that Cruz provided them with box cutters that he wanted them to use on his wife and offered them $1,000 for the job. He also gave them disposable cell phones.

Prosecutors still haven't revealed a motive, but the L.A. Times is reporting that fertility problems between the couple may have been the cause. Investigators are also looking into whether he hired the homeless men to kill his wife as part of a murder-suicide plot.

Cruz is due back in court June 23, when a date will be set for a preliminary hearing. His bail has been set at $2 million. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Friends said Cruz had met his wife in junior high and the couple had been married for nearly 20 years. Those close to the chef said they were unaware of any marital problems.

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

Cruz gained notoriety when he began hosting "Calorie Commando," where the recently thinned out chef converted fattening dishes to low-calorie versions that retained the same taste. He also wrote a popular cookbook.

ABC News has revealed that Cruz was set to publish a new cookbook called "The Love Diet," which reportedly credits some of the recipes to his happy marriage.


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