The recent stabbing of Mark Iacono of the much-ballyhooed pizzeria Lucali in what appeared to be a mob-style altercation reminded us that chefs aren’t always angels. Iacono was in Joe’s Superette — an old-fashioned store open at irregular hours at the bucolic corner of Carroll and Smith streets — when he got into an argument with a wise guy. A few minutes later, he was slashed with a knife as he was walking down the street, leaving him in critical condition.
The slasher turned out to be reputed mob associate Benny Geritano, who was arrested and now faces attempted murder charges. But here’s the twist: Chef Iacono himself is facing attempted murder charges, too, and what appeared to be a routine disagreement between two acquaintances in a bodega now seems to be just another minor subplot from The Sopranos. Anyone who’s said of the obscurely located Lucali (where Jay-Z and Beyoncé have been enthusiastic patrons), “This feels like a mob spot” — was right! Maybe the pizzeria wasn’t so safe after all for those moms and dads with their strollers who populate the place in the early evening.
Did you think that just because chefs wear white hats, they always operate on the side of virtue? Not on your life! Here are more examples of Good Chefs Going Bad.
Celebrity chef, TV Food Network star, and restaurant owner David Ruggerio pleaded guilty in 1999 to stealing more than $140,000 from patrons of his big-ticket restaurant Le Chantilly on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. During a two-month period in 1998, Ruggerio added $140,000 in tips to $4,000 in credit card receipts run up at his restaurant. How he thought he could get away with it is beyond us, but he must have chosen patrons he thought wouldn’t examine their credit card statements too carefully.
Prosecutors maintained Ruggerio committed the crime, a felony, in order to solve temporary cash-flow problems. The chef claimed it was a “bookkeeping error.” He got by with just a slap on the wrist, getting five years’ probation instead of what might have been a seven-year stretch, and agreeing to pay $100,000 in restitution to the credit card company. Additionally, the felony charge means he can’t hold a liquor license anymore, though there are several possible dodges around this regulation. His TV show, Ruggerio to Go, was also canceled. The Food Network should have simply changed the title to Ruggerio on the Lam.
Ruggerio’s sneaky crime pales in comparison to that of another Food Network star, Juan-Carlos Cruz. His popular show Calorie Commando ran for two seasons and 39 episodes beginning in 2004. On the program, he showed how to lower the calorie count on comfort food recipes.
The former pastry chef at the five-star Hotel Bel-Air in Brentwood, Los Angeles, was arrested by Santa Monica police for soliciting three homeless men in the park to commit murder for him. The intended victim was not identified at the time. The homeless men apparently went right to the beachfront city’s Homeless Liaison Office and reported the solicitation.
It was later revealed by TMZ that the plot involved a bizarre prospective murder-suicide on the part of Cruz and his lawyer wife, Jennifer Campbell, who was despondent over being infertile, but too Catholic to kill herself. Cruz intended to hire someone to do it, after which he would allegedly kill himself. At his trial in 2010, Cruz entered a plea of no contest and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
But some of the grisliest chef crimes have been committed in the U.K. Peter Wallner should have been on top of the world when he landed a prized head-chef job at the four-star Woodlands Park Hotel in Cobham, England. But he soon fell in love with the hotel’s wedding planner and began an affair that would end in disaster.
When his wife got wind of the affair via some unerased text messages, her fate was sealed. One evening in 2006 as she slept with a mask over her eyes, Wallner fatally clobbered her with a cast-iron frying pan. He then used his hotel account to order a freezer, and stuffed his wife into it, which would serve as her coffin for three years.
Meanwhile, he filled an urn with ashes from the restaurant’s barbecue, and staged a mock funeral for her friends and family, who had been told she’d died from a brain aneurysm. Three years later, in need of a freezer, he removed his wife’s remains and placed them in a large dumpster and covered the corpse with garbage, figuring the waste disposal folks would obliterate the body in the truck’s trash compactor. Unfortunately, a protruding leg was spotted by a neighbor, who called police, and the jig was up. Last year he was convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years to life.
Apparently, nobody administers an intelligence test to chefs.