Michael Johnston, Audiotree founder and owner of Chicago venues Schubas Tavern and Lincoln Hall, has been accused of using cameras hidden throughout his home to take nude photos of his family nanny and their friend, according to a new report.
According to NBC 5, Johnston and his wife Kelly Halverson have had a civil suit filed against them by two women, who are using the names Jane and Julie Doe for anonymity’s sake, who claim that the couple both took secret photos of them naked and groomed them to take part in sexual acts. Gail Eisenberg, Jane and Julie’ attorney, said that Johnston and Halverson would leave out explicit sexual objects, including a box of sex toys, which seemed to be part of a larger plan to groom the recent DePaul University graduate who was their nanny and caretaker.
“She did find some explicit objects,” said Eisenberg. “At the time, she kind of put it out of her mind but in hindsight does think it was part of a grooming process.”
One month later, in January 2020, the couple asked Jane and Julie to house-sit for them while they were out of town on vacation. According to the civil 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 while they were away.” The women claim the couple secretly videotaped them undressed and bathing using spy cameras for their own sexual gratification.
The next month, according to the allegations, the couple once again asked Jane to house-sit for them overnight. Jane alleges that as she was about to undress, she discovered a hidden camera disguised as a picture frame aimed at the bathtub. Court records say Jane searched the house and found two more hidden cameras, one in a bathroom disguised as an iPhone dock charger and another in the bedroom she was currently using.
“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.”
Yesterday, Audiotree publicly cut ties with Johnston in a statement, which 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.”