A former TV chef has pleaded not guilty to charges that he allegedly tried to pay homeless men in Santa Monica to kill his wife.
Juan-Carlos Cruz, 48, of Los Angeles, the former host of “Calorie Commando” and “Weighing In” on the Food Network, was arraigned at the Superior Court Airport Courthouse Monday, May 17th on charges of attempted murder and solicitation of murder, county district attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison said. His bail was set at $2 million.
Following an investigation by Santa Monica police, Cruz was arrested at the Cheviot Hills dog park in Los Angeles at about 12:30 p.m. May 13th on suspicion of soliciting to commit murder, Santa Monica police Sgt. Jay Trisler said. The investigation began after two Santa Monica homeless men informed officers with the Santa Monica Police Department’s Homeless Liaison Program May 7th that they were allegedly approached by Cruz to kill someone, Trisler said.
The men agreed to assist Santa Monica police in the investigation, which Trisler said can be attributed to the relationship homeless liaison officers have established with homeless individuals in the city. The officers did their due diligence to corroborate the statements that the men made, he said.
“I want to believe that it was the rapport our homeless liaison officers have with the homeless community that they felt confident and comfortable knowing that what the (individuals) told them was not a made-up story,” Trisler said.
“As a result, I think a life was saved and an individual was arrested.”
Based on the investigation, police were able to determine the alleged murder-for-hire method, where and when the individual was to be killed and the terms of payment, Trisler said. But due to the ongoing investigation, police did not disclose that information or the identity of the intended victim, who was notified of the plot.
A video released by TMZ.com included an interview with two homeless men who said they were asked to allegedly cut a woman’s throat, and police confirmed that those two men were the same ones in contact with them. Prosecutors have identified the intended victim as Cruz’s wife, attorney Jennifer Campbell.
Prior to hosting shows on the Food Network, Cruz worked as a pastry sous-chef at the Hotel Bel Air where he created pastries for a number of celebrities. Author of the “Juan-Carlos Cruz Calorie Countdown Cookbook,” Cruz was inspired to change his focus to low-calorie cooking after losing 43 pounds on a TV show challenge.
Cruz is scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing June 23rd. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison, a district attorney spokeswoman said.