TV Chef in Hot Water

Food Network host charged in murder-for-hire plot

Monday, May 17, 2010  |  Updated 7:02 PM EDT
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Food Network Host Charged in Murder-for-Hire Plot

Santa Monica Police

Juan-Carlos Cruz

A former Food Network chef was charged Monday with attempted murder and solicitation of murder for allegedly trying to hire two homeless men to kill his wife.

Juan-Carlos Cruz, 48, pleaded not guilty during a Monday afternoon court appearance at the Airport Branch Courthouse in Los Angeles. Bail was set at $2 million.

Cruz, who hosted the shows "Calorie Commando" and "Weighing In," was arrested last Thursday by Santa Monica police. According to police, they were contacted May 7 by two men who said Cruz had hired them to kill someone.

"The individuals who were solicited agreed to assist the Santa Monica Police Department in the investigation," during which detectives learned the murder-for-hire method, the time and place the intended victim was to be killed and the terms of payment, said Santa Monica police Sgt. Jay Trisler.

TMZ.com reported that Cruz paid the men half of the $1,000 he promised for the job and gave one of them a box containing a box cutter, disposable cell phone, gloves and a pocket watch.

Police and prosecutors have not provided any possible motive for Cruz wanting to put out a hit on his wife, Jennifer Campbell. Neighbors told the Los Angeles Times that Campbell, an attorney, and Cruz were high school sweethearts.

According to Cruz's biography, he graduated from the California Culinary Academy and worked as a pastry chef at Hotel Bel-Air. While working as a chef, his weight eventually ballooned to more than 280 pounds.

He then began developing low-calorie recipes and eventually lost about 100 pounds, much of it while appearing on the Discovery Health network's show, "Body Challenge."

Cruz hosted "Calorie Commando" on the Food Network in 2004. He also authored a book titled, "The Juan-Carlos Cruz Calorie Countdown Cookbook."

Cruz is due back in court June 23, when a date will be set for a preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial.

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