Report: TV chef planned killing of wife for love

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The TV celebrity chef known as the “Calorie Commando” had cooked up quite a plot: He would attend a party for his latest cookbook, “The Love Diet,” while two homeless hitmen murdered his wife of 17 years.

The bizarre murder-for-hire plan was foiled when the would-be killers tipped off police.

What made the plot even stranger was what Juan-Carlos Cruz told police. He said he did it for love.

“Even though I was planning on whacking her, I’m very devoted. I know that’s weird,” Cruz told police when he was arrested.

Cruz said he wanted to spare his high school sweetheart the pain and despair of not being able to conceive a child after a decade of fertility treatments.

“His wife was brokenhearted and lamenting over the treatments. The defendant then said that this was a ’merciful’ way to end her suffering,” according to a probation report on Cruz released Tuesday.

Cruz was sentenced Monday to nine years in prison after pleading no contest to trying to hire two homeless men to slash the throat of his wife, Jennifer Campbell.

When he was sentenced, Cruz smiled and winked at his wife in court. Her attorney, Blair Berk, declined to comment on the couple’s current relationship.

Campbell did not make a victim impact statement at the sentencing. She later declined to speak with reporters.

Cruz said he and Campbell had spent more than $200,000 on failed fertility treatments and were deep in debt as a result, the probation report said.

The couple never considered adopting, because “there were other adopted children in the extended family and ... they were not treated the same as biological children,” the report said.

Cruz, 48, a native of El Salvador, told authorities he had considered killing himself and his wife on Mother’s Day because it was the most difficult holiday for her, but instead decided to hire someone else to do it.

Police said Cruz gave the men 10, $100 bills that had been cut in half and said he would provide the other halves after the killing. Police later found the remaining half-bills in Cruz’s wallet.

For days, the homeless men communicated with Cruz on cell phones and in person to get instructions. The report said one of the men was given the key code to the couple’s Westwood condominium and shown the location of security cameras.

By then, police detectives had Cruz under surveillance and videotaped him driving the man to the condo.

Cruz was concerned that his dogs not be harmed and gave the man treats to keep the animals quiet. Cruz first discussed having his wife’s throat slashed with a box cutter, the report said, but also suggested strangling her with her pantyhose to avoid a bloody mess.

He was quoted as telling the men: “If it ends up bloody, that’s fine ... But I prefer not to have a mess.”

Cruz told detectives he got the idea for his wife’s death from a mystery novel but came up with the idea to cut the bills himself.

In a plea bargain with Cruz, prosecutors dropped a more serious count of attempted murder. His lawyer, Shawn Chapman Holly, said Cruz will probably serve half his sentence because no violent crime was committed and he has no significant prior criminal record.

A former pastry chef at the Hotel Bel-Air, Cruz’s dramatic 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.” The subsequent “Love Diet” book was published after his arrest and featured aphrodisiac recipes.

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