Venue Owner Accused of Using Hidden Cameras to Take Nude Photos

Michael Johnston, the co-founder of Chicago-based record label Audiotree and the owner of Chicago music venues Lincoln Hall and Schubas Tavern, has been accused of setting up hidden cameras in his home to capture nude images of a family nanny and her friend.

He and his wife, Kelly Halverson, have been named in a civil suit brought by the two accusers, identified as Jane Doe and Julie Doe, according to NBC 5 Chicago. Johnston was charged with a crime and appeared in bond court Nov. 10 on the felony charge of making an unauthorized recording in a bathroom, per Stereogum.

Halverson has not been charged with a crime. Label co-founder Adam Thurston will supplant Johnston as Audiotree’s president and CEO.

An attorney for the accusers — two women described as friends who are recent college graduates — said Jane was hired in December 2019 to work for Johnston and his wife as home manager, child caretaker and personal assistant. Julie worked as a nanny for others within the couple’s circle of friends.

In January 2020, Jane and Julie were asked to housesit for the family while they were out of town. Per the suit, Halverson “encouraged Julie and Jane to use the Jacuzzi bathtub in the master bathroom” and to “help themselves to the Johnstons’ wine and beer.” The two allege they were then secretly videotaped undressing and bathing via inconspicuously placed spy cameras.

A subsequent housesitting job for the family led to Jane’s reported discovery of a hidden camera disguised as a picture frame and aimed at the bathtub. Jane said she searched the house and found two more hidden cameras, one in a bathroom disguised as an iPhone dock charger and another in the bedroom that she was using, according to court documents.

The accusers’ attorney, Gail Eisenberg, claims there is video of Johnston setting up the cameras, as they were “motion sensor cameras, so any person who would have entered those rooms would have turned [it] on,” she said. Johnston and Halverson reportedly no longer live in the house where the alleged spying occurred.

“These women are extremely brave,” Eisenberg added of Jane and Julie. “This was their first job out of college and they right away learned that the world is not always there to protect them.”

Jane told NBC 5, “My life is forever changed because of what they did to me. … I hope that by speaking out about this I can empower other survivors to do the same.”

A lawyer for Johnston said his client “takes these allegations seriously and will continue to work through the appropriate legal process.”

On Monday (Nov. 15), Audiotree — the parent company that operates the record label, its livestream series Audiotree Presents and the two music venues — publicly cut ties with Johnston in a statement.

It said, “In light of the allegations against co-founder Michael Johnston, he has been removed as president and CEO of Audiotree, Audiotree Presents, Lincoln Hall, Schubas and [neighboring restaurant] Tied House. As of Saturday, November 12, Johnston is no longer a part of the Audiotree team. We respectfully ask for patience as we navigate this challenging time.”

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