CHICAGO - The co-founder of the music label Audiotree and owner of Schubas Tavern and Lincoln Hall has been accused in criminal charges and in a civil lawsuit of setting up hidden cameras to record his nanny and her friend.
The lawsuit alleges that Michael Johnston, 38, and his wife Kelly Johnston recorded the nanny and her friend while they were undressing or bathing. One of the cameras was hidden in a picture frame aimed at a bathtub the two were encouraged to use, according to the lawsuit.
Michael Johnston faces a separate felony charge of unauthorized video recording. His wife has not been charged.
Johnston co-founded Audiotree and bought Schubas and Lincoln Hall with his father in 2015. He was fired Nov. 12 as president and CEO of Schubas Tavern, Lincoln Hall, Audiotree and Tied House, according to a joint statement.
Days earlier, on Nov. 9, Johnston was arrested in Lake View and released from custody the next morning, police records show. A judge ordered him to have no contact with the witnesses, according to the Cook County state’a attorney’s office. He is due in court again on Wednesday.
According to the lawsuit, the Johnstons placed motion-activated cameras in private areas around the home to record the women without their consent. The nanny found the hidden cameras in February 2020 after she noticed one of them in a picture frame pointed at a bathtub.
Video shows Michael Johnston moving a camera to record a jacuzzi bathtub in the master bedroom, the lawsuit states. Johnston can be seen standing in the bathtub and reviewing the video on a cellphone to make sure it was positioned properly, according to the lawsuit.
Before leaving town, Kelly Johnston encouraged the girls to use that bathtub while they looked after the couple’s two children, the lawsuit alleges.
"We think it’s important to bring attention to the harms that can occur when someone’s privacy is violated — the longterm effects and trauma to the victims," said Gail Eisenberg, attorney of the two women, who were roommates at the time and recent graduates of DePaul University.
She said the cameras were not normal nanny cams, which were already in areas throughout the house, but were placed in private areas like the bathroom.
The lawsuit recounts one alleged incident, two weeks after the woman was hired as a nanny in 2019. The wife told her to organize a box in their bedroom closet that contained sex toys, making the woman feel "extremely uncomfortable," the suit alleges.
In an email, Johnston’s attorney Damon Cheronis said, "Mr. Johnston takes these allegations seriously and will continue to work through the appropriate legal process."
The suit is seeking more than $75,000 in damages.