Suspect in murder-for-hire scheme called 'extremely volatile'

James Pepe was disciplined for hostile behavior

TAMPA - A Bloomingdale High School teacher, suspected in a murder-for-hire scheme against a fellow teacher, was nearly fired by the Hillsborough County School District for disciplinary problems 11 years ago, records show.

James Pepe, 55, was arrested after an undercover operation where agents said Pepe offered $2,000 to kill Robert Meredith, a teacher at Strawberry Crest High School in Plant City.  Money never changed hands, but Pepe was taken into custody at Bloomingdale High on Thursday.

In a letter from the Professional Standards Director dated November 2001, Pepe was accused of having an outburst at a function at Tampa Bay Technical High School, where he worked at that time.

"Your unprofessional conduct… caused a disruption of a school function and created an uncomfortable and hostile situation…" the letter said.

"Several professionals described your demeanor in terms such as 'hostile,' 'aggressive,' 'extremely volatile,' and your anger as 'alarming.'"

One teacher complained that she was afraid of Pepe because of his behavior.

Records also stated that Pepe had a decade-long problem with authority, and made several complaints about being mistreated.  

His annual evaluation reports, however, showed a near perfect record.

Pepe is currently on paid suspension by the school district following his recent arrest.

Meanwhile, during his first appearance before Hillsborough County Judge Walter Heinrich Friday, prosecutors contended that Pepe was a danger to the public and a possible flight risk. 

A public defender argued that because Pepe was accused of solicitation in a murder for hire scheme, not conspiracy, he should be granted bond.

Heinrich deferred the case to another judge for a Saturday morning hearing.

Parents with kids attending Bloomingdale High expressed concern about Pepe's possible release.

"It's frightening.  It's scary," said Glenda Williams, who's daughter was a teacher's assistant under Pepe.  "It's very disconcerting that we have teachers in public schools that are capable of doing this, and our children are in their care," Williams said.

Steven Noh has two children attending Bloomingdale, and while his kids didn't have any contact with Pepe, he'd rather it stay that way.  Noh was alarmed about the alleged murder-for-hire scheme.

"I mean, you put something like that out on another teacher or somebody else," Noh said.

"He definitely shouldn't be allowed to be around students at all, or any children at all."

At Pepe's Saturday morning hearing the judge ordered no bond for the teacher.

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