Ex-TV chef gets 9 years in plot to kill wife

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Associated Press

Posted on December 13, 2010 at 3:05 PM

Updated Monday, Dec 13 at 8:04 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — With a wink and smile at his wife, former "Calorie Commando" TV chef Juan-Carlos Cruz was sentenced to nine years in prison Monday for trying to hire two homeless men to murder her.

Looking considerably grayer than he did during his arrest in May, Cruz turned to catch one more glimpse of his wife Jennifer Campbell as he was led from the brief hearing. She was seated in the front row of the courtroom with her attorney.

In a plea agreement reached shortly before a pretrial hearing was to begin in October, Cruz, 48, pleaded no contest to a charge of solicitation of murder, and prosecutors dropped a more serious count of attempted murder.

The agreement called for a nine-year prison sentence.

During sentencing, which lasted about five minutes, defense attorney Shawn Chapman Holley said Cruz is expected to serve half of the nine-year term because no serious, violent felony was committed.

Prosecutors have not released a motive in the case.

Campbell did not make a victim impact statement, and she and Holley later declined to speak with reporters. Prosecutor Simone Shay also did not address the court.

In court, Holley also asked Superior Court Judge H. Chester Horn Jr. to reduce an $1,800 fine to $200, but Horn denied the request and imposed the full amount, plus court costs.

The sentencing capped a bizarre tale that came to light when Cruz was arrested in a sting operation by Santa Monica police.

The investigation began when two homeless men told police that Cruz had approached them on the street, wanting to hire them as hitmen. Police then videotaped Cruz arranging the murder with the men and driving one of them to his Westwood condo to show him how to get in, prosecutors said.

The Dominican-born Cruz and Campbell, a trusts and taxation lawyer, had been together since high school. Cruz's cookbook co-author Amy Reiley has described the couple as devoted to each another.

A former pastry chef at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, Cruz's weight loss led to a new career on the Discovery Health Network's "Body Challenge 3."

That led to "Calorie Commando" on the Food Network. The show, which focused on remaking favorite recipes in low-calorie versions, ended in 2006.

Cruz then published "The Calorie Countdown Cookbook." Shortly after his arrest, his second cookbook was released, "The Love Diet," written with Reiley, which featured aphrodisiac recipes.

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