By P.J. Huffstutter
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Russell R. Wasendorf Sr., chief executive of Peregrine Financial Group, who was arrested earlier this month after confessing to bilking customers for 20 years, is accused of stealing something else: a rock and roll tune.
On Friday, attorneys for the 1970s rock band The Knack -- famous for its song "My Sharona" -- sent a cease and desist letter to Wasendorf and his now-shuttered Italian restaurant MyVerona in Cedar Falls, Iowa, to stop him from using a re-recording of the tune as part of the eatery's online advertising campaign.
The restaurant had used the song, with the chorus modified to "M-M-M-My Verona," for several years as a theme song on its web site and other online venues, according to local residents and former company employees.
Among other things, the song served as a soundtrack to a video montage shot inside the restaurant, including clips of a plate of wood-grilled beef tenderloin, hand-cut pasta and a glimpse of the restaurant's collection of more than 240 varieties of wine. As of Friday afternoon, two weeks after Wasendorf was arrested at an Iowa hospital, the video was still available on YouTube and the restaurant's web site.
Wasendorf never contacted the authors of the song or the copyright owners and did not pay for the right to use it commercially, according to a letter sent by an attorney representing Knack bandmates Berton Averre and Doug Fieger, the song's authors.
"The Composition is one of the most popular songs of all time, and companies pay our client significant sums for the right to obtain a license for the use of the composition," according to the letter, which noted that Wasendorf could face as much as $150,000 in statutory damages.
The public defender representing Wasendorf was not immediately available for comment.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has accused Wasendorf of misappropriating more than $200 million of his brokerage's customers' funds.
"All he had to do was pay us and send us a copy of the lyrics so we can OK them," Averre said. "We got bubkes. It's really outlandish, that someone in this day and age tried to get away with this."
(Editing by Prudence Crowther)