Bloomingdale High School teacher James Pepe accused of hiring hitman faces judge in first appearance

High school teacher James Pepe faced a judge in his first court appearance Friday after he allegedly tried to put a hit out on a former co-worker.
 
Prosecutors want Pepe to stay in jail until his trial.  His attorney says his client should be released on bond.
 
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Walter Heinrich decided to push the decision off until Saturday and told both sides to gather case law.
 
Prosecutors believe Pepe is a flight risk and a danger to society.
 
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Robert Meredith, a social studies teacher at Strawberry Crest High School, says he got 'spooked' when police showed up at his door to tell him a former co-worker tried to hire a hit man to kill him.

"It is very strange," said Meredith.  "Very disconcerting."

Authorities began investigating 55-year-old Pepe, a Bloomingdale High School history teacher, after a witness became concerned that he was serious about having a former co-worker, Robert Meredith, killed.
 
The witnesses claimed Pepe tried to hire him to murder Meredith.
 
Detectives with the Plant City Police Department then enlisted the help of the FBI, who reached out to Pepe.
 
Detectives contacted Pepe via telephone on September 13th. On that call, Pepe told the undercover officer that he "had an issue that he might need taken care of" and he was willing to pay $2,000.
 
FBI agents said they tried to have Pepe meet them but he wouldn't.  Instead, Pepe allegedly kept repeating he wanted Meredith dead.
 
Pepe and Meredith worked together at Strawberry Crest High School in the social studies department a few years ago.
 
Meredith said he knew of Pepe but never socialized with him.
 
"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.
 
Meredith also told ABC Action News he never exchanged words with Pepe or engaged in a scuffle.
 
"This came as a complete shock," he said.
 
Pepe told police a different story.  Police say Pepe claimed he and Meredith were best friends and had a falling out.  Pepe believes Meredith was spreading rumors that he was a child molestor, according to police.
 
Meredith first thought when detectives showed up at his home that he was being pranked.  With the situation turning real very quickly, Meredith is still at a loss for why Pepe would want him dead.
 
"I don't feel that I'm in any way culpable for this.  If there is a problem, it is 100 percent on the other side," he added.
 
Word of the arrest stunned students.  Senior Johnathon Hamilton said he had class with Pepe Thursday morning and suspected nothing.
 
Hamilton described Pepe as 'different.'
 
"He was OK for some students," explained Hamilton.  "For others, they didn't like him. I mean, if you talked in class he'd mark you a zero. It was all or nothing for him."
 
Many students say Pepe liked students to call him Doctor Professor Pepe.
 
"I didn't...never ever thought he would do something like that," said freshman Maria Martin. 
 
Parents learned of the arrest via an automated message sent out by Hillsborough County School District officials.
 
Pepe, who is facing solicitation of first degree murder charges, is being held without bond.
 
As for Meredith, he said he will return to school and try to move on.
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