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Former Food Network TV chef pleads no contest to seeking murder of his wife

October 26, 2010 | 11:36 am

Juancarloscruz Prosecutors announced Tuesday that a former Food Network TV chef had pleaded no contest to soliciting two homeless men to kill his wife.

Juan Carlos Cruz made the plea at a preliminary hearing Tuesday. Under the deal, prosecutors dropped one count of attempted murder. He faces nine years in prison. He pleaded to attempted solicitation of murder.

Santa Monica police say Cruz, 48, of Westwood, asked homeless men to commit homicide for him. After one of the homeless men told police, investigators launched a weeklong undercover operation that ended with Cruz's arrest in a Cheviot Hills dog park.

Neighbors and co-workers told The Times it was difficult to reconcile the accusations of police with the man they had come to know — a devout churchgoer, community volunteer and doting husband.

A Knights of Columbus member who attended St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, Cruz was a dog owner who volunteered at Love on 4 Paws, a therapy program that provides animals to sick children.

Cruz's wife, Jennifer Campbell, his high-school sweetheart, worked long hours as an attorney, neighbors said. He was often seen walking the couple's two dogs outside the Westside condominium complex where they have lived for many years.

-- Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Juan Carlos Cruz in May. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times