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'Calorie Commando' pleads not guilty in alleged murder plot

By Alan Duke, CNN
Juan-Carlos Cruz was the Food Network's "Calorie Commando." He's accused of trying to hire men to kill his wife.
Juan-Carlos Cruz was the Food Network's "Calorie Commando." He's accused of trying to hire men to kill his wife.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former host of Food Network's "Calorie Commando" pleads not guilty
  • Juan-Carlos Cruz is accused of trying to hire homeless men to kill his wife
  • Police say a homeless man came to them with information about Cruz
  • Cruz remains behind bars pending a $2 million bond payment
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Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Former TV chef Juan-Carlos Cruz entered a plea of not guilty Monday in his initial appearance on a murder-for-hire charge in Los Angeles.

The former host of the Food Network's "Calorie Commando" was charged Monday with attempted murder and solicitation of murder for allegedly trying to hire homeless men to kill his wife, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said.

He remained behind bars pending a $2 million bond payment. A preliminary hearing was set for June 23.

The criminal complaint filed Monday accused Cruz, 48, of trying to hire David Carrington and David Walters -- homeless men who go by the street names Little Dave and Big Dave -- to murder Jennifer Campbell, Cruz's wife. It was not immediately clear who was Little Dave and who was Big Dave.

If convicted, Cruz could face up to life in prison, the prosecution spokeswoman said.

Assistant Deputy District Attorney Joseph Marcus would not talk about the case, but the homeless men allegedly solicited to carry out the hit did speak with celebrity news and gossip website TMZ on Saturday. One of them called Cruz "very meticulous" but "very cheap" in his planning.

The plan fell apart when one of the men whom Cruz allegedly recruited told Santa Monica police, said Sgt. Jay Trisler.

Trisler confirmed that men interviewed by TMZ are the chief witnesses against Cruz.

Little Dave told TMZ he was approached first by Cruz, who asked him to kill his wife for cash, and he told his friend Big Dave.

Big Dave said he told a Santa Monica police officer about the plot after he was arrested for loitering.

"We're very fortunate that we have a relationship and rapport with some of the homeless and that they were able to give us information," Trisler said.

Santa Monica police began their undercover investigation of Cruz on May 7, Trisler said. Cruz was arrested at a dog park in the Cheviot Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon, he said.

Big Dave and Little Dave got a place to stay while the investigation was under way. Santa Monica police put them in a hotel room to keep them out of sight, Big Dave said.

"They gave us two pizzas, a 12-pack of beer and a bottle of San Jose," he said. "I love them."

Cruz, a Los Angeles resident, was an overweight pastry chef at Hotel Bel Air until he changed his focus to promote low-calorie recipes.

He authored "The Juan-Carlos Cruz Calorie Countdown Cookbook: A 5-Week Eating Strategy for Sustainable Weight Loss," which was published in 2007.

The Food Network issued a short statement Monday saying that Cruz "has not been under contract or associated with Food Network for a number of years."

CNN's Marc Balinsky contributed to this report.

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