A Florida high school teacher was arrested at his school and charged with trying to hire a hitman to kill another teacher.
In a Sept. 13 phone call, James Pepe, 55, allegedly told an undercover officer that he was willing to pay $2,000 for "an issue that he might need taken care of," according to a report by ABC News affiliate WFTS-TV /ABC Action News.
Pepe, who was arrested Thursday, is a social studies teacher at Bloomingdale High School in Hillsborough County.
He is accused of trying to put out a hit on Robert Meredith, a former co-worker. The two men had worked together at Strawberry Crest High School, WFTS reported.
Both schools are in the Hillsborough County public school district.
Authorities began investigating Pepe in August after the man he allegedly contacted to kill Meredith became concerned that he was serious and called authorities. "It had moved beyond just a fixation to an actual anger," a spokesperson for the Plant City Police Department told ABC News. Police called the FBI which then, according to authorities, taped a series of phone calls between Pepe and an undercover agent.
In the recording made just two weeks ago, in which Pepe allegedly told the undercover officer he would be willing to pay him $2,000, Pepe balked at the officer's request for an in-person meeting.
Meredith told WFTS he knew of Pepe, but did not socialize with him and has no idea why he would be targeted.
"When you are at school you have limited time to talk to co-workers, period. So, as far as going out an having a drink, never," Meredith explained. "This came as a complete shock." Pepe reportedly told police he and Meredith were best friends and had a falling out. He also claimed Meredith was spreading rumors that he was a child molester. Meredith, who is still a teacher, said he never had any harsh words or a confrontation with Pepe. "I don't feel that I'm in any way culpable for this," he said. "If there is a problem, it is 100 percent on the other side."
Pepe is being held at Hillsborough County jail on one charge of solicitation to commit murder. He was not offered bail.
Pepe taught in the Hillsborough school district for 28 years, WTSP-TV in Florida reported. Students told WFTS he liked to have students call him Doctor Professor Pepe in class.