ROSCOE VILLAGE — Former Chicago music executive Michael Johnston faces more charges of secretly recording his employees after two more women came forward with allegations of being unknowingly filmed in his Roscoe Village home.
Johnston is the co-founder and former co-owner of the prominent Audiotree label and co-owned Schubas Tavern and Lincoln Hall, which he bought in 2015 as part of a partnership. But Johnston was fired in November after his former nanny accused him of setting up hidden cameras to take nude videos of her and her friend.
The two women sued Johnston and his wife, Kelly Halverson, in November. Johnston was charged with making an unauthorized recording in a bathroom and pleaded not guilty, according to NBC5.
Now, Johnston faces two more felony charges of unauthorized video taping, according to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. A judge set his bail at $10,000 during a bond hearing Tuesday, and Johnston is due back in court on the new charges April 4, according to a spokeperson.
In the new charges, Johnston is accused of illegally filming a 36-year-old woman who was hired in 2016 as a dog- and house-sitter, according to the state’s attorney. Chicago Police found three videos from Nov. 28-30, 2019 that captured her in the home’s master bathroom, prosecutors said.
The woman was fully nude in two of the times she was captured on the hidden camera, according to the state’s attorney’s office.
The second woman, a 30-year-old housekeeper who worked for Johnston from 2015-2020, was captured on the hidden camera on nine occasions between November 2019 and January 2020, according to the state’s attorney’s office. She was fully clothed and cleaning in the videos.
Johnston’s attorney, Damon Cheronis, did not immediately return a request for comment.
The earlier charges stemmed from a lawsuit filed by two unnamed women who recently graduated from DePaul University. One of the women was hired in December 2019 as a home manager, personal assistant and nanny for Johnston’s two kids. The other woman is her friend and roommate, who also worked as a nanny for one of Johnston’s close friends.
The two women said Johnston and Halverson set up hidden cameras disguised as ordinary household objects to spy on them and take videos while they were bathing and undressed, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit was first reported by NBC5.
The alleged inappropriate behavior began in January 2020 — about two weeks after Johnston’s nanny was hired — when Halverson asked her to organize some boxes in their bedroom closet, according to the lawsuit.
One of the boxes was filled with sex toys and other sexual paraphernalia, which made the nanny feel “extremely uncomfortable, but she continued working for the Johnstons,” the lawsuit states.
That same month, Johnston and Halverson asked the nanny to stay at their home overnight while they were out of town for vacation, according to the lawsuit. The couple told the nanny to stay in the master bedroom, and encouraged her to invite her friend over, drink their wine and beer and use the suite’s jacuzzi bathtub, according to the suit.
During the nanny’s Jan. 22-26, 2020, stay, the couple secretly filmed the two women undressing and bathing using spy cameras set up throughout the master bedroom suite, the lawsuit alleges.
The nanny didn’t discover the cameras until about a month later, when she was once again asked to house-sit overnight and encouraged to bring her friend over, according to the lawsuit.
The nanny was about to undress for a bath on Feb. 14, 2020, when she discovered a hidden camera, disguised as a picture frame, aimed at the bathtub, the lawsuit alleges. She then searched the home and discovered multiple hidden cameras — some disguised as ordinary household objects.
The cameras were motion-activated, so they recorded video whenever there was activity within their field of vision, according to the lawsuit.
On one of the days the two women were scheduled to house sit, Johnston was captured positioning the camera, standing in the bathtub and reviewing the camera stream on his cellphone to make sure the bathtub area would be filmed, the suit alleges. Halverson then encouraged the women to use this bathtub before leaving town, according to the lawsuit.
The women think Johnston and Halverson were working together to obtain nude video footage of the two women without their knowledge or consent, their attorney Gail Eisenberg said. They’re seeking an injunction to prevent any footage that might still exist from being shared, Eisenberg said.
“This lawsuit is about a recognition that these breaches of privacy can have a huge impact on a person’s life,” Eisenberg said. “You take for granted that you can walk down the street or be in your office and not be watched, but now they’re always thinking, ‘Am I being surveilled? Is my privacy being violated?’”
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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