It just didn’t sound like the same teacher Jessica Kramer had for history at Durant High School in the spring of 2007.
“I was shocked,” said Kramer after hearing that Bloomingdale High School teacher James Jules Pepe, 55, of 1850 Providence Lakes Blvd., Brandon, had been arrested for solicitation to commit first-degree murder.
“It’s very odd," said Kramer. "I can’t imagine Dr. Pepe doing anything like that. He was always nice and approachable. He was a good teacher. I really enjoyed his class.”
Parents of Bloomingdale High School students learned of the teacher’s arrest Thursday, Sept. 27 when they received a recorded phone message from Principal Mark West.
“Mr. West just left a message telling us a teacher had been arrested for a very serious crime but that no students were involved,” said Stacy Williams, mother of Bloomingdale senior Marissa Williams.
Marissa Williams said she and her friends at Bloomingdale weren’t surprised by the news. Williams, who had Pepe as a sociology teacher last year, said the 28-year Hillsborough County teacher exhibited some unusual behavior in front of his students.
“He was very paranoid,” she said. “He thought everyone was out to get him. He told us the administration had it out for him and that his next-door neighbor kept trying to break into his house. He said he kept changing the locks and finally had to move out.
Pepe also taught psychology and world history at Bloomingdale.
Plant City Police arrested Pepe at the high school at 1700 Bloomingdale Ave., Valrico, and charged him with trying to hire an undercover officer to kill Strawberry Crest High School social studies teacher Robert Meredith. The two teachers previously worked together at Strawberry Crest.
Plant City Police Department officials say they were contacted Aug. 8 by a witness from Kennesaw, Ga., who said Pepe was attempting to hire a hitman to murder his former co-worker.
With the help of the FBI, Plant City Police set up a sting operation in which an undercover detective pretended to be interested in Pepe’s offer. Over the course of several phone calls, Pepe said “he had an issue he might need taken care of” and said he would pay $2,000 to have Meredith killed, police said. Police said Pepe was angry because he believed Meredith was spreading rumors that he was a child molester.
Following his arrest, Pepe was transported to Hillsborough County Jail where he is being held without bond. He is due to be arraigned in court today.
“He’s the last teacher I’d suspect would do something like that,” said Kramer, who just saw her former teacher last week at Westfield Brandon where he regularly walks laps around the mall. “He was kind of a loner but he was very straight-laced. I’m really surprised.”