(Updated) Former AL Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little pleads guilty to 1st-degree theft of property

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Zeb Little (Cullman Police Department)

Updated 9-24-19 11:47 a.m.

CULLMAN, Ala. – Cullman native and former Alabama Senate Majority Leader Zebulon “Zeb” Little, 51, pleaded guilty Friday to two counts of first-degree theft of property. According to Alabama Attorney Gen. Steve Marshall, whose office is handling the case, Little admitted to unlawfully taking client funds from his trust account. He pleaded guilty in Franklin County Circuit Court before specially-appointed Judge Terry Dempsey.

Little was indicted on three counts of first-degree theft of property back in February 2019 for money taken from a single victim, reported by Marshall’s office to total more than $25,000. The investigation into Little began when a victim complained to the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office that money placed into Little’s trust account related to her father’s estate was stolen.  The Attorney General’s Criminal Trials Division presented evidence to a Cullman County grand jury on Feb. 11, 2019, resulting in Little’s indictment for three counts of theft of property related to that victim.

Last Thursday, he was arrested on a new single charge of first-degree theft by deception by the Cullman Police Department involving four more Cullman County victims between May 2015 and September 2016.

On Sept. 19, Little was charged by the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office with another count of theft of property related to client trust funds stolen from additional victims. An investigation revealed that on multiple occasions, Little was settling cases on behalf of clients that were plaintiffs in personal injury cases. He would inform the clients that a settlement had been reached and said that he would pay the medical bills from the settlement amount. Instead of paying the medical bills, he transferred that portion of the settlement money to himself.

At a status hearing on Friday, Little agreed to plead guilty to two felony counts and pay restitution in the amount of $74,043.44.

Both counts are Class B felonies and are controlled by the Alabama presumptive sentencing guidelines. Sentencing will be left to the discretion of the Court and will be held in Cullman County on a date that is not yet set.

“The victims in this case trusted Little to represent them,” said Marshall. “These victims needed help during a difficult time and went to Little searching for justice. Instead, they were victimized again by the greed of an individual who used his position of trust to enrich himself. This type of conduct erodes at the trust that the people of Alabama should be able to place in members of the Alabama bar. It will not be tolerated.”

Marshall praised those involved in bringing this case to a successful conclusion, noting in particular Assistant Attorneys General Katie Langer and Chris Moore. He also thanked the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office for its excellent work conducting the investigation.

Little’s cases were moved to Franklin County and placed under Judge Dempsey after Cullman County officials, who are acquainted with Little, recused themselves. Dempsey has not set a date for Little’s sentencing.

Little, of Tuscaloosa, a Democrat and native of Cullman, served in the Alabama Senate representing District 4 from 1998 to 2010. He was the Senate Majority Leader and Floor Leader of the Senate from 2002 to 2010, when he was defeated by Republican Paul Bussman.

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com