A Florida high school teacher accused in a murder for hire scheme against a former colleague considered asking a former student to carry out the hit, according to a phone conversation played in court.
James Pepe, 55, a social studies teacher at Bloomingdale High School in Hillsborough County who liked students to call him “Doctor Professor Pepe,” was arrested at school on Thursday.
He is accused of trying to put out a hit on Robert Meredith, a former co-worker. The two men had apparently worked together at Strawberry Crest High School.
On Saturday, prosecutors played in court a phone conversation allegedly between Pepe and a friend, who later tipped off police.
“What do you want done with Bob Meredith?” the friend asked.
“I want him killed,” the man, who prosecutors say is Pepe, replied.
Police said Pepe wanted Meredith killed because he believed the teacher was spreading rumors that he was a child molester.
Meredith said he knew of Pepe but did not socialize with him and has no idea why he would be targeted.
“When you are at school you have limited time to talk to co-workers, period. So, as far as going out and having a drink, never,” Meredith told ABC affiliate WFTS-TV. “This came as a complete shock.”
Meredith, who is still a teacher, said he never had any harsh words or a confrontation with Pepe.
“I don’t feel that I’m in any way culpable for this,” he said. “If there is a problem, it is 100 percent on the other side.”
In a Sept. 13 phone call, Pepe, allegedly told an undercover officer that he was willing to pay $2,000 for ”an issue that he might need taken care of.”
Authorities began investigating Pepe in August after the man he allegedly contacted to kill Meredith became concerned that he was serious and called authorities.
“It had moved beyond just a fixation to an actual anger,” a spokesperson for the Plant City Police Department told ABC News.
Police called the FBI which then, according to authorities, taped a series of phone calls between Pepe and an undercover agent.
In the recording made just two weeks ago, in which Pepe allegedly told the undercover officer he would be willing to pay him $2,000, Pepe balked at the officer’s request for an in-person meeting.
Pepe is being held at Hillsborough County jail on one charge of solicitation to commit murder. He was not offered bail.
ABC News’ Suzan Clarke contributed to this report