6,895,000 pageviews

Friday, December 8, 2023

James Pepe: The High School Teacher From Hell

     James J. Pepe taught high school history in the Hillsborough County, Florida school system. For years he had been an erratic, difficult employee who frightened a lot of his follow teachers. In 2001, a faculty member characterized Pepe as "hostile," "aggressive" and "extremely volatile." During this period James Pepe called his principal a "pathological liar" and bragged to people that school administrators were powerless to take action against him. Had this disgruntled, disruptive employee worked in the private sector he would have been fired.

     In dealing with this potentially dangerous and out of control educator the Hillsborough County school superintendent decided against termination. Instead the boss suspended Mr. Pepe with pay, recommended anger management counseling then reassigned him to another school. (In teacher pedophile cases, they call this passing the trash.) Over the next few years, as Mr. Pepe's behavior became more bizarre, paranoid and bellicose, he was transferred three more times. At one of the schools this history teacher disrupted, Mr. Pepe accused the principal of assigning him the worst students. He also accused the maintenance staff of turning off the air-conditioning to his classroom. (Given the passive-aggressive nature of public school employee discipline, this might have been true. As they say, even a paranoid can be persecuted. Maybe school administrators were trying to encourage this pain-in-the-neck to quit.)

     In 2012 James Pepe was teaching and causing havoc at Bloomingdale High School near Tampa, his fifth assignment in the Hillsborough County school system. (Mr. Pepe, a seriously troubled unfit teacher was earning $58,000 a year plus benefits.) In recent months he had focused his paranoia on a 59-year-old economics teacher who also taught at Strawberry Crest High School. Pepe had convinced himself that Robert Meredith was the source of all his problems. More specifically the unstable teacher harbored the false notion that Mr. Meredith, his former colleague and friend, was spreading rumors that Pepe was a child molester.

     In August 2012 the 55-year-old history teacher reached out to a childhood friend for help. James Pepe came right to the point--would this person murder Robert Meredith for $5,000? The stunned friend, who said he would think about the homicidal proposal, immediately reported the murder solicitation to the Plant City Police Department. There was no doubt in the friend's mind that James Pepe was dead serious in his desire to have Mr. Meredith killed.

     The police asked the teacher's friend to call Mr. Pepe back and say that while he wasn't interested in committing murder he had found a man who would do the job. The "hitman," of course, would be an undercover cop.

     The undercover officer, in mid-September 2012, spoke with James Pepe by phone. During that conversation the teacher said he "had an issue he might need taken care of for $2,000." (While this seems a little cheap for a contract murder, had Pepe been talking to a real hitman, the price would have been about right. In the U.S. most amateur assassins are inexpensive.)

     In the second phone conversation between James Pepe and the "hitman," the undercover officer tried to arrange a meeting. Pepe declined, but said in no uncertain terms that he wanted to have Robert Meredith murdered. This conversation, of course, was recorded.

     While the police in murder solicitation cases prefer to have audio and videotaped meetings (often in a car parked in a Walmart parking lot) in which the mastermind hands over the blood money and provides the cop with helpful information regarding the target, the Plant City police, on September 27, 2012, took James Pepe into custody outside Bloomingdale High School.

     Charged with solicitation of first degree-murder, James Pepe was held without bond in the Hillsborough County Jail.

     On March 31, 2014 James Pepe pleaded guilty to solicitation of murder. The judge sentenced the murder-for-hire mastermind to house arrest for one year and 14 years of probation. This was, under the circumstances, an extremely lenient sentence. One would hope, at least, that the conviction ended Mr. Pepe's teaching career. 

1 comment:

  1. "House arrest for one year and 14 years of probation". This childhood friend would have been better off saying no and forget about it. He now needs to think about his safety and his family if he has one. The judge of course is safe with no problem. There is no question of guilt here. Things in this country are sick and getting sicker by the day. Lonnie