NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Country star Merle Haggard has sued an environmental awareness group, claiming it illegally used his name and likeness to raise money.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Chancery Court against the Green Train, a Nashville-based organization, and its founder, Robert K. Wolf. It seeks unspecified compensatory damages.
Haggard claims in the lawsuit that the group forged his signature and exaggerated his involvement with the organization to solicit money. He says his reputation could be irreparably harmed by continued association with the group.
The Green Train bills itself as a nonprofit that educates the public about environmental issues. Its concert-and-train tour scheduled to depart Portland, Ore., in April and travel through 28 states on a six-week whistle-stop tour with several concerts along the way before ending in Washington D.C.
A phone message left with the organization was not immediately returned.
According to the lawsuit, Haggard donated $20,000 to the Green Train and agreed to ride the train as support and entertainment. He also attended a fundraising lunch and said he would ask a few of his fellow artists if they would agree to ride the train.
But the lawsuit said the group "greatly exaggerated" Haggard's support and misstated that he has personal involvement in the project's operations.
Haggard, who has had 38 No. 1 hits stretching back to 1966 including "Okie From Muskogee," said that without his consent, permission or knowledge, the group used his name and image on all materials for the Green Train and forged his signature on "personal letters" and other solicitation materials and on merchandise sold on e-Bay and in nightclubs.
The forged letters went to some of Haggard's friends in the entertainment industry, including Dolly Parton, Jewel, Vince Gill and Amy Grant, the lawsuit states.
Haggard also contends that the group did not have a state permit to raise contributions and did not report the contributions, and that "substantial amounts" of the tens of thousands of dollars it raised went to Wolf's personal use.
"By using Mr. Haggard's name and other aspects of Mr. Haggard's identity to promote the Green Train project under these circumstances, defendants create the false impression that the project has been operated in a credible, ethical and legal fashion, when in fact that is not the case," the lawsuit alleges.
Besides compensatory damages and attorney's fees, he asks that his name be removed from the Green Train. He also asks the court to bar the group from keeping contributions illegally raised in his name without making "full and complete disclosure of all relevant facts to the donors."