Sunday, January 21, 2018
News Roundup

Prosecutor: Hillsborough teacher mentioned ex-student during search for hit man

TAMPA — The Georgia hit man was not James Pepe's first choice for the job.

Pepe, a Bloomingdale High School social studies teacher, initially wanted his longtime friend in Georgia to do the deed, Assistant State Attorney Shannon Green said. Pepe offered him $5,000 to kill a colleague, Robert Meredith, according to Green.

When the friend refused, Pepe asked him for help finding someone who would do it.

"What do you want done with Bob Meredith?" the friend asked Pepe during a phone call recorded by Plant City police and played during a court hearing Saturday.

Pepe's response: "I want him killed."

Pepe already had other hit men in mind, including one of his former students, Green said.

"He would hook us up with every f- - - - - - murderer we need," Pepe said.

Pepe had labeled the former student "as a criminal and as someone who would do this for him," Green said. It is unclear whether Pepe ever contacted the man.

Pepe's friend, who was not clearly identified during Saturday's hearing, had another suggestion: an "ex-military dude" he met three or four years ago in a Marietta, Ga., bar.

In reality, the supposed hit man was an undercover Plant City police officer who had been working with Pepe's friend.

"He's for real," the friend said.

That doesn't mean he's capable of taking people out or has ever done it, Pepe responded.

By the end of the 11-minute phone call, Pepe agreed to let his friend pass along Pepe's number to the hit man.

During a Sept. 13 call between Pepe and the undercover officer, Pepe told the officer he "had an issue he might need taken care of" and could pay $2,000, police said.

During a second call, the officer tried to arrange a meeting. Pepe refused, police said, but still said he wanted Meredith killed.

Pepe, 55, of Brandon was arrested Thursday afternoon just as classes were ending at Bloomingdale. On Saturday, Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Jack Espinosa Jr. denied bail.

During the hearing, Green played the recording and told the judge Pepe could be a harm to Meredith or society if allowed bail.

Pepe indicated to detectives that he would have been willing to commit the murder himself, Green said, and would even consider doing it at a school event.

Pepe, dressed in a red jumpsuit, watched the proceedings on a closed-circuit television from jail. He made no comments.

Despite making his intentions clear, Pepe did not say on the tape played Saturday why he wanted Meredith killed. But when his Georgia friend complained of hacked emails and problems with a debit card, Pepe blamed it on Meredith.

"That's definitely him," Pepe said. "That's his style."

The two teachers worked together at Strawberry Crest High School in Dover before Pepe moved to Bloomingdale High School in Valrico last year. Meredith's attorney, Jim Guarnieri, said the two were never friends.

Pepe is now suspended with pay, pending action by the School Board.

During the recording played Saturday, Pepe also told his friend about problems with other people.

"But it seems his main target was Meredith," Green said.

Pepe's personnel file from his years teaching at Hillsborough County schools revealed a man with a history of aggression.

Pepe started with the school district in 1984. His evaluations showed mostly perfect ratings until 2001. Then he blew up at a training session. A disciplinary letter described him as hostile and aggressive.

After that, his behavior was erratic.

Pepe eventually moved to Strawberry Crest High School in Dover, where he got a perfect review in his first year. But in his second evaluation, under the new Empowering Effective Teachers system, he scored 49 points out of a possible 100.

He told the Sheriff's Office in April that a former co-worker might have stolen videotapes of a school project from his apartment. "He then stated the apartment's maintenance men always give him strange looks and act suspicious around him when he goes into the office to pay his rent," the report states.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.

Comments
Forecast: Sunny, high of 78 in Tampa Bay

Forecast: Sunny, high of 78 in Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG — Temperatures should reach the upper 70s on a warm, sunny, mild Sunday, kicking off a mild week in Tampa Bay, forecasters predict. 10News WTSPThe latest Tampa Bay-area radar 10News WTSPFeels...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
Woman dies after falling ‘several decks’ from a balcony on a Carnival cruise

Woman dies after falling ‘several decks’ from a balcony on a Carnival cruise

A woman sailing on a Carnival Cruise Line ship from Jacksonville fell from her cabin’s balcony and died Friday.Doral-based Carnival Cruise Line spokesman Vance Gulliksen confirmed the death Saturday, saying in a statement that the incident occurred e...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Record number of inmates died in Florida prisons last year. And they died younger than past years.

Record number of inmates died in Florida prisons last year. And they died younger than past years.

More inmates died in Florida prisons last year than in any other year on record, leaving the state scrambling to identify causes and find solutions. The tally, 428 inmate deaths in 2017, was released late Friday by the Florida Department of Correctio...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Leonard Pitts Jr.: One year later.

And here we are, one year later.If you are groping for markers by which to measure how profoundly we have been changed since Inauguration Day, here’s one you might want to consider:In January of 1998, reports surfaced of a sexual affair between Presi...
Published: 01/21/18
Lightning falls to Wild, its fifth loss in seven games

Lightning falls to Wild, its fifth loss in seven games

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Lightning said all the right things about needing to look in the mirror and do some soul-searching during its recent funk. Veterans said they had to lead the way. Coach Jon Cooper believed this eight-game trip would "show us wha...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Florida wins big SEC showdown with Kentucky

Florida wins big SEC showdown with Kentucky

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Jalen Hudson came off the bench to score 17, and Chris Chiozza, Keith Stone and Kevarrius Hayes contributed clutch baskets down the stretch as Florida rallied to upset No. 18 Kentucky 66-64 Saturday night. "We were able to win it jus...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Shrine Game journal: USF players’ thoughts are with grieving QB Quinton Flowers

Shrine Game journal: USF players’ thoughts are with grieving QB Quinton Flowers

ST. PETERSBURG — USF had expected to have four former players in Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field, but QB Quinton Flowers had to miss the showcase game after learning that his grandmother had died late last week."I most definitely ...
Published: 01/20/18
Late score gives West victory over East in Shrine Game

Late score gives West victory over East in Shrine Game

ST. PETERSBURG — With less than a week to install a playbook, offenses can have it tough in college showcase games.And for 58 minutes on Saturday in the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field, the teams combined for just one offensive touchdown.But...
Published: 01/20/18
Tampa Bay jobs chief Ed Peachey making top dollar

Tampa Bay jobs chief Ed Peachey making top dollar

For years, Edward Peachey has bragged about the number of jobless people he has helped find work.As president and CEO of CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, he’s in charge of the two main government agencies that provide training to the...
Published: 01/20/18
Diver from Dover dies in treacherous Eagle’s Nest cave

Diver from Dover dies in treacherous Eagle’s Nest cave

WEEKI WACHEE — The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday investigated the death of a Hillsborough County man in the Eagle’s Nest, an underwater network of caves where at least 11 others have died since 1981.Even experienced divers have lost th...
Published: 01/20/18