Who’s that in the wood chipper?

In a case reminiscent of the movie Fargo, a Chico used-car salesman was busted Tuesday on suspicion of trying to hire a killer to murder his wife’s boyfriend. Steven Marcus, owner of Marcus Motors on Park Avenue, allegedly offered an undercover sheriff’s detective $5,000 to kill Robert Timothy, the Red Bluff beau of his wife, Leslie Marcus, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Cheryl Broom.

The Sheriff’s Department, acting on a tip from an informant, spent a year investigating Marcus, sending an undercover detective to his office at least four times. Broom said the two discussed several methods of killing the man, including shooting him and running over him with a car. Posing as a hardcore criminal, the detective offered to “smash [the boyfriend’s] face in” and end his life in exchange for $2,500 up front and $2,500 after the murder was committed.

“We collected a substantial amount of evidence,” Broom said. “It wasn’t like he was kidding.”

The deed was never consummated and no money ever changed hands because, Broom said, Marcus and his wife reconciled. When Marcus changed his mind, sheriff’s detectives consulted with the Contra Costa County District Attorney, who told them that he believed they had enough evidence to prosecute the case. Butte County D.A. Mike Ramsey, who was out of town when the arrest was being planned, concurred with his colleague.

“The crime is completed once you solicit for murder,” Ramsey said Wednesday. “It was only by a change of circumstance that it didn’t go forward.”

Marcus is now in jail with bail set at $500,000. He faces up to nine years in prison, but Ramsey says the fact that the deal was never consummated could be "a mitigating factor" in his sentencing if convicted