An economics teacher at Bloomingdale High School in Hillsborough County, Florida, has been charged with offering an undercover cop $2,000 to kill a fellow educator. Despite the severity of the charges against him, James Pepe is now on paid leave pending a decision by the school board to fire him.
The source of Pepe's contempt for colleague Bob Meredith is a mystery. Meredith's lawyer told The Tampa Tribue that his client "doesn't have a clue why another teacher wanted him dead." Pepe told police that "He and Meredith were best friends and had a falling out. He also claimed Meredith was spreading rumors that he was a child molester." To quiet those alleged rumors, Pepe offered a friend $5,000 to kill Meredith. The friend instead contacted the police, who sent an undercover officer Pepe's way. Several taped phone calls and a reduced price later, Pepe was arrested for soliciting murder.
Even more perplexing than his beef with Meredith is the fact that Pepe wasn't fired years ago. The Tampa Bay Times reports that:
During teacher training at Tampa Bay Technical High School in 2001, [Pepe] railed about the administration. He was "hostile," "aggressive" and "extremely volatile." A colleague said she was concerned for her safety.
"They can't get me," Pepe had bragged. He called his principal a "pathological liar" when she addressed him. Coming after 10 years of erratic behavior, this seemed like the last straw.
But instead of firing Pepe, as then-Hillsborough County superintendent Earl Lennard recommended, the district sent Pepe to anger management classes and reassigned him to Gaither High School.
From there he moved on to three more high schools. At one, he accused the principal, faculty and maintenance staff of loading him up with the worst students, denying him equipment and deliberately cutting off the air-conditioning in his room.
Pepe's colleagues and supervisors in the Hillsborough County School System believed he posed a danger to them and to their students. The investigation into Pepe's hunt for a hitman–which revealed he considered hiring a former student with behavioral problems and was fine with the murder occuring on campus–proved them right. These revelations prompted Tampa Tribune columnist Joe Henderson to ask,
What, exactly, does it take to get fired in this school system?
Short of allegedly offering undercover cops $2,000 to have another teacher murdered, I mean.
In the world where the rest of us live — a place with which Pepe doesn't seem to be familiar — he would have been handed a cardboard box years ago and told to hit the road.
In Hillsborough County, though, Pepe moved through five different high schools. He was pulling in more than $58,000 a year. That's a pretty nice wage, especially in this economy. That doesn't include more than $24,000 in back pay he received after he was reinstated following that 2001 meltdown.