A recorded conversation played in court Saturday, Sept. 29, isn't what most people would expect to hear from a 28-year high school teacher.
In the recording, peppered with obscenities and racial slurs, Bloomingdale High School history teacher James J. Pepe talks to an acquaintance in Kennesaw, Ga., about his desire to hire a hitman to kill Strawberry Crest High School social studies teacher Robert Meredith.
The State Attorney's Office played the recording for Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge Walter Heinrich in an effort to convince the judge not to give Pepe, 55, bail.
The strategy worked. Heinrich denied setting a bond for Pepe and sent him back to jail.
Pepe was pulled out of class and arrested at Bloomingdale High School Sept. 27 and charged with solicitation to commit a first-degree murder.
The Plant City Police Department, aided by the FBI, made the recording after the acquaintance contacted the police department and said Pepe was trying to hire a hitman to kill Meredith, a Plant City resident. The two used to work together at Strawberry Crest.
In the recording, Pepe and the tipster are speaking on the phone and the tipster asks Pepe, “What do you want done with Bob Meredith?”
Pepe is heard saying, “I want him killed.”
During the course of the conversation, Pepe suggests hiring a former student to kill Meredith and even tells the tipster that the murder could occur at a school event.
In a subsequent phone call, an undercover officer posing as a hitman contacted Pepe who said he would pay $2,000 to have his former colleague killed. When the undercover officer pressed Pepe to meet in person, Pepe ended the conversation.
Because no money exchanged hands, the recording is the prosecution's key evidence against Pepe.
Pepe reportedly told police that he wanted Meredith killed because he was spreading rumors about Pepe being a child molester.
In a conversation with ABC Action News, however, Meredith said he barely knew Pepe.
If convicted of the crime, Pepe could be sentenced to 30 years in prison.