Broward County

Two pictures diverge of Dania Beach man in murder-for-hire plot

Is Jason Dennis Simione a dangerous, explosive gun freak and bigot who plotted to murder his young wife, her mother, brother, and his own 9-month-old son?

Or is he just a loudmouthed, macho muscle head with apocalyptic paranoia who says outrageous things to make people cringe but would never harm the child he adored?

Simione, 39, of Dania Beach, isn’t in a position to explain himself. He’s behind bars in Broward County, unable to post the $5 million-plus bail for three counts of solicitation to commit murder, one count of child abuse, possession of bomb-making materials, and felony animal cruelty.

Authorities say Simione offered $150,000 to one of his employees to hire a hit man from El Salvador, someone familiar with gang violence and bomb making, to off his family. And if the hit man raped his wife before killing her, the witness said, that would be fine by Simione.

Nonsense, says Simione’s divorce attorney, Susan Brown. Jason Simione is crazy in love with 28-year-old Megumi “May” Simione, and although he’s locked up due to her complaint, he is worried about her and won’t say a bad word about her.

May Simione, on the other hand, filed a restraining order against her husband shortly before his arrest Monday, saying he’s bipolar, and a threat to her and their son.

Plenty of people seem eager to speak for Simione, offering opinions and recollections that bolster the more benign interpretation of their friend than the sinister one his wife, her relatives and police have offered.

Many are in law enforcement or were colleagues on the Hollywood Fire Department, where Simione worked for 15 years before founding a company that makes weapons-related accessories for the military and rescue squads.

On the other side: May Simione’s own words to investigators and judges, police reports that his mother filed in 2006, May’s brother, who spoke to a Miami Herald reporter in two lengthy interviews, and plenty of witnesses who overheard Simione saying President Barack Obama should be assassinated because he is black.

One of the people on Simione’s alleged hit-list was his brother-in-law, Kazhito “Kazu” Haga, who called the couple’s relationship “rocky from the start.” While Jason Simione bragged to his buddies that he met May, a pole-dancer and stripper, while on vacation in Hawaii, Haga says the couple met when May was working as a restaurant server in a Kona resort.

“He told her how beautiful she was and they struck up a conversation,” said Haga.

Yes, his sister has a stripper pole at her Dania Beach home, but she uses it for exercise, not to titillate men.

Simione may have claimed that he bought his beautiful wife her breast implants, but Haga says his sister already had them before she met Simione — not that it’s anybody’s business.

May’s family arrived in the United States from Japan in 1987, when she was 2. She moved to Hawaii about nine years ago.

May and Jason maintained a long-distance relationship about which Haga said his family had concerns.

“But we didn’t want to stand in the way of them being together,” said Haga, who works as a non-violence trainer in California. “Love is love.”

His sister described Simione as successful, self-made and loyal, character traits upon which his friends and detractors agree.

“If he was on your side,’’ Haga said, “he’d defend you to his death.”

But Simione is also “rude and brash and mean to everyone, from strangers to family,’’ Haga added. He once witnessed Simione “wind up and punch the dog,’’ a huge male mastiff/Cane Corso mix named Titan, “straight in the face,” he said.

Simione’s friends say that’s all an act, like the intentionally offensive comic Andrew Dice Clay.

“Jason is indeed a foul-mouthed, loud character,’’ said one buddy, a police officer who hangs out with Simione at a Hollywood cigar shop, where a lot of divorced man congregate to complain about their exes.

“He thinks he is funny. His humor is the rolling-your-eyes-and-wincing kind of humor...Jason loved making people cringe. It was his trademark. It was his brand, his corporate identity. It was his image and he cultivated it.’’

May and Jason married in Hawaii on June 25, 2011. His cousin, Fort Lauderdale photographer Ron Wood, who shot the ceremony, said they couple had postponed their wedding from a previous date because May hadn’t signed the prenuptial.

Simione had made a great deal of money on patents for military items and rescue devices. Among them, the Red Sled, a rescue litter, and a sleeve soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq can change out while hot.

“Jason invented some great stuff while he was a fireman and he turned it into a nice business,” said one of his cigar shop friends. “He really was a success story.’’

He brought his bride to his homes in Dania Beach and Stuart, and to make her happy, he added a room onto his Dania Beach house for her mother, Naoko Hitomi.

But wanting to control May, he wouldn’t let her out of the house without him and didn’t want her to work, Haga said.

“He wanted to be the provider.”

A paranoid personality

Baby Jett was born in November 2012, and soon after, May and her mother began fearing for the child, Haga said.

Jason Simione wanted his boy to be tough, like him, and tried to feed him adult food even while he was nursing, Haga said. One time, he said, Jason demonstrated how to stop a baby from choking, and “whacked that baby” on the back with “a loud thud.”

May’s family also began to worry about the arsenal Simione kept in the home. He believes that some natural disaster is coming or the U.S. government might fall, so Jason Simione turned his house into a fortress where his family and friends would be safe.

He stockpiled food and survival supplies, including tons of sushi-grade rice for his wife and mother-in-law, one of his close friends said.

When Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies raided the home, in the 4700 block of SW 35th Avenue, they found scores of firearms, 70,000 rounds of ammunition, gunpowder, propane cylinders, galvanized pipe and other materials for “an improvised explosive device.’’

Haga said he was worried about his young nephew being in a house “with guns with bullets in the chamber. That’s a huge concern.”

His mother kept the baby in her room for safety, Haga said.

But Jason Simione began complaining to his friends that May and her mother wouldn’t let him near his son. He also began making accusations against wife, Haga said. He’d find a napkin from a restaurant and decide she was cheating on him; he found a piece of lingerie he didn’t recognize, and said she was a prostitute.

“He can be an incredibly paranoid person,’’ said Haga. “He used to make wild accusations about my sister, everything from being a prostitute to a spy. I think he even started to believe these stories...Saying it’s a contentious divorce is the understatement of year.”

As the marriage began to crumble, Simione started “doing crazy things,” said Haga, including putting a GPS tracker on the truck and flattening the tires.

In February, May tried to leave. Her brother flew in from California. With their mother and Jett, they piled into the Range Rover that friends say Simione bought for his wife, and took off.

“She feared for [Jett’s] life,’’ said Haga.

Jason Simione told friends he was worried May would take the baby and flee to Japan. He found her teen-age passport, so old it is now void.

May Simione filed a restraining order against her husband, saying she was a victim of domestic violence.

She wrote that her husband threatened her: “If you ever take the baby away, I will kill you, I will kill you.”

She also wrote that Simione “threatened to make my mom cry, beat my brother and kill his mother. He literally packed his truck with guns, ammo to kill his mom.... I think he is unstable, unsafe, maybe extreme bipolar.”

It wasn’t the first time someone had accused Simione of having a mental illness.

In December 2006, Hollywood police responded to a domestic complaint, filed by Donna Peplin, who identified herself as Simione’s mother.

Peplin’s photography business is right next to Simione’s Bulldog Tactical Equipment, 3706 SW 30th Ave., in a warehouse complex. Peplin told police that her son, whose company makes gear for the military and rescue squads, had sprayed the fire extinguisher all over the floor and furniture and poured oil on the walls. Peplin said “she was afraid of her son due to him having been diagnosed with a mental disorder,” the officer wrote in his report. Peplin said her son is on medication, but he was not taking it. The officer wrote he advised Simione to stay on his side of the business and not enter his mother’s establishment.

A woman identifying herself as Peplin’s assistant said last week Peplin wasn’t talking to the media.

A dangerous father?

On April 18, the court dismissed May Simione’s protective order request. She sought a new protective order on Aug. 10 for herself and Jett.

She told them reports had been filed to BSO and the Department of Children and Families.

“My son has been abused and neglected by his father,” she wrote in the report. “He has absolutely no respect or a care for his life or safety.”

This came after an incident earlier in the week in which her husband, holding Jett, had gotten into a fight with one of his employees. May Simione had not witnessed it, but heard from others that her husband threw the baby onto a table, causing the child to get a gash in his head.

“Child services is working on this. There has [sic] been many witnesses,” she wrote.

Jason Simione told his cigar buddies about the same fight. He said he was reprimanding an employee for smoking pot when the fight began. Simione said he fired the worker.

That’s about when another employee contacted May and her brother, telling them Simione had offered to pay him $150,000 to find a hit man to murder them.

May Simione also told BSO her estranged husband was “addicted to steroids and in a rage will do anything.”

But when police searched the Dania Beach home, they didn’t find any steroids, only a prescription testosterone supplement and an over-the-counter “super vitamin” which is mainly given to race horses, said BSO Det. Ricky Libman.

Jason, who is 5-foot-8 and 252 pounds, gets his bulk and strength from hitting a speed bag for two hours a day, a friend says.

He talked constantly about love and marriage to this friend. Just days before his arrest he “still imagined he would get back with his wife,” the friend said. “He would write letters to his wife about his thoughts and about getting counseling together.’’ Simione finally filed for divorce after weeks of his friends telling him to do so, said the cigar-smoking buddy. “He dragged his feet on this because he was ever hopeful for a happy family.’’

Haga said he believes Simione loves his sister and son. But he also thinks Simione is capable of dangerous things.

“I don’t doubt for a second that he would hurt anybody — including his son.”

May Simione has filed for an injunction to freeze her husband’s assets. Her fear, her brother said, is he could come up with the $5 million bond to get out of jail.

The courts will hold a hearing on the issue Aug. 22.