Some consumers in suburban Chicago received large brown envelopes promising "COVID-19 stimulus assistance" right about the time they were expecting payments from the federal government's $2 trillion economic assistance package. "Time-sensitive mail: Open immediately," the envelope read. "Confidential information enclosed."
But there were no checks inside. The envelopes contained ads for the eight-day "Break the Bank sales event" at Dempsey Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram.
Dealer Tom Dempsey says he was just as surprised as the recipients who swiftly inundated the store with angry calls, online reviews and social media posts. Dempsey told Shaw Media that the dealership approved the mailer but had no idea its marketing firm would use such important-looking envelopes.
"I didn't know there was going to be this brown envelope with whatever language was on it," said Dempsey, who fired the agency and halted additional mailers.
"I have to take responsibility for it, and I did not mean for this to happen."
Dempsey sent letters explaining what happened to employees, customers and vendors. Shaw Media said he also posted an apology on Facebook, but the dealership's Facebook page has since been deleted amid the backlash. The phone number listed on the mailer has been disconnected.
Lissa Druss, a spokeswoman for the dealership, told WGN radio that the number belonged to the marketing firm, which she declined to name because of potential litigation. It was Dempsey's first time using the firm, she said.
"I have never seen a man more remorseful or heartbroken that this happened," Druss said. "He never, ever saw the envelope. He had no idea about the envelope. ... The second he found out about the envelope, he said, 'You're fired.' "