Attorney General, Alderman Probe Bus Company’s ‘Racist’ Ad



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CHICAGO, IL – Two days after a bus company's racially-charged promotional email back to backlash, the Illinois attorney general's office has opened an investigation into possible civil rights violations and a Chicago alderman is calling for hearings into business. [19659002] Suburban Express, a Champaign-based shuttle bus specializing in ferrying students from the University of Illinois between the Chicago area and the downstate Champaign-Urban campus, advertised to a series of perks to the "Suburban Express Experience."

Among them : "Pbadengers like you."

Monday, Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a subpoena to the company demanding it turn on evident showing its its policies and practices violate the Illinois Human Rights Act.

Suburban Express, founded by controversial "domain speculator" Dennis Toeppen, has submitted a report to the subpoena issued by Madigan's Civil Ri ghts Bureau.

"I'm concerned that this may have been that Suburban Express is discriminating against potential customers," Madigan said. "Under the law, access to transportation must not be impacted or based on a person's race or national origin." My office is investigating to determine whether Suburban Express' policies and practices violate the law. "

A statement from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign administrators said Suburban Express has "a long history of taking advantage of students, staff and faculty" and tacitly suggested a boycott of the bus company by encouraging "any potential customers to carefully investigate its record and customer concerns before using its services. "

" These types of racist and bigoted statements attacking any members of our community deserve nothing but condemnation from all of us, "said the statement, attributed to UIUC's vice chancellor for student affairs, international student services director and vice provost for international affairs.

Toeppen and his company have a contentious history of litigation, which includes hundreds of lawsuits against students, an arrest in connection with a charge of online harbadment, the alleged creation of hundreds of fake online accounts to argue with critics, the banning of all customers from Highland Park and posting the personal information of customers Related transgressions on its "Page of Shame."

Dennis Toeppen, founder and CEO of Suburban Express, in a 2014 booking photograph (Champaign County Sheriff's office)

According to a Monday night Facebook post, the company said it has removed the page permanently and promising to formulate a new approach, "[a] lthough we believe it is unfair to the customers who have defrauded us."

In its initial apology regarding the promotional email, the company claimed "mismanagement" had led to nearly one in five students being a native of China, who placed "a variety of burdens on domestic students."

In a subsequent apology released Sunday, the company said that Suburban Express riders would not encounter Chinese exchange students on our buses, that's because they all ride our competitor now, "as a result of a 2013 incident involving accusations of racism and harbadment

"It was an ill-advised statement to make, because it upset the very people we were sad to have lost," explained the company, which said it welcomes students of all nationalities to ride its buses. "Anyone who says otherwise is trying to further their own agenda."

Earlier Monday, Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar, 47th Ward, suggested holding hearings into the company's conduct and potentially reconsidering its license to pick up or drop them off at O'Hare Airport.

"O'Hare is one of the busiest airports on the planet." It's the gateway to Chicago. "Sort of the welcome mat," he told the Chicago Sun-Times. "Do we want companies like Suburban Express serving that gateway – a company that blatantly makes racist and xenophobic statements?"

Pawar, chairman of the Council's Asian-American Caucus and, until October, a candidate for governor, said the company operates under the name "Illini Shuttle" at the airport.

Suburban Express does not require Chicago license, spokespersons for the city's Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Department told the Chicago Tribune. Since it's a one-way transport company, usually heading to suburban malls or the airport, it is licensed by the state rather than the city.

"However, because of concerns about the company's offensive marketing strategy we are referring this company for Review by the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, "Lilia Chacon told the Tribune.

Toeppen could not be reached Monday.

The attorney general's office said anyone who wishes to file a complaint can do so online or by calling 877-581-3692.

»Read More: Suburban Express apologized after sending an ad telling students," You will not feel like you're in China when you 're on our buses.'


Top Photo: Lisa Madigan (left) | AP Photo | Haraz N. Ghanbari / Ameya Pawar | AP Photo | G-Jun Yam

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