A Bloomingdale High School history teacher, James Pepe, is accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill a former co-worker.
Plant City police arrested Pepe, 55, on a solicitation of first-degree murder charge on Thursday.
An out-of-state witness contacted Plant City police last month and told detectives that Pepe had tried to hire him to murder a former co-worker, according to a report.
That former teacher, Robert Meredith, lives in Plant City. Police said the witness was concerned that Pepe was "serious" about having Meredith killed.
Police said with assistance from the FBI, the witness initiated several phone calls with Pepe who asked him to find someone who'd be willing to carry out the hit job.
An undercover officer then contacted Pepe earlier this month.
“During those conversations with that officer, Mr. Pepe indicated that he had a job that needed to be done and he was willing to pay $2,000 for it,” said Plant City Police Ofc. Tray Towles.
In a second phone call, the undercover officer tried to get Pepe to arrange a meeting, he declined but stated he still wanted Meredith murdered, according to police.
Police said apparently the suspect thought Meredith was spreading nasty rumors about him.
"There was a friendship between the two teachers at some point. At some point that relationship went south. The two teachers ended up at different schools,” said Towles. "After that, the suspect in this case, he believed the victim was saying stuff about him to the extent he thought the only way to stop him from saying this stuff was to kill him."
School administrators said the men taught together for a while at Strawberry Crest High School. Pepe has been with the school district for 28 years.
A district spokesman said they weren't aware of any problems between the men.
"When we heard what the charge was, which I believe was solicitation to commit murder, that was quite a shock,” said Hillsborough County Schools spokesperson Stephen Hegarty.
Staff and parents at Bloomingdale High have been notified about the arrest.