The co-founder of Audiotree — the company that owns Lakeview music venue and bar, Schubas Tavern, and neighboring restaurant, Tied House — has been removed from his post following news of a civil suit filed against him and his wife. Former Audiotree president and CEO Michael Johnston also appeared in court last week and faces a felony charge of making an unauthorized recording in a bathroom.
Two recent graduates of DePaul University — who worked for the couple in various capacities including house manager, nanny, and personal assistant — say Johnston and his wife, Kelly Halverson, set up hidden cameras that used motion detection inside their Roscoe Village home to record nude footage of the women taken without their consent. NBC5 Chicago reported that Johnston and Halverson asked the women individually and on separate occasions in January 2020 to house-sit from them and encouraged them to use a Jacuzzi in the bathroom. This was a ploy to record secret footage of them undressing, according to the lawsuit, to potentially groom the women “to involve them in future sexual activities.” The suit also accuses Johnston and Halverson of sexual harassment.
According to the lawsuit — which refers to the plaintiffs as Jane and Julie Doe — Halverson again asked the women to house-sit — this time together — in February 2020. During their stay, one of the women allegedly discovered a camera pointed at the Jacuzzi disguised as a picture frame. Another camera was disguised as an iPhone charging dock, the lawsuit claims, while a third camera was hidden in a bedroom one of the women was using: “The cameras Jane and Julie discovered were not childcare cameras or ‘nanny cams,’” the lawsuit states, clarifying Halverson and Johnston had separate cameras to monitor their children.
“The Johnstons’ actions intimidated and humiliated Jane Doe and Julie Doe, causing severe emotional distress,” the civil suit, which also seeks at least $75,000, reads. “Plaintiffs bring this action not only to regain their own power, but to deter would-be voyeurs and highlight the psychological damage caused by such abuse, which is too often minimized by our society.”
Bucktown-based Audiotree, also owns Lincoln Hall, a music venue in Lincoln Park that’s steps from DePaul’s main campus. The company bought Lincoln Hall and Schubas in 2015. They would later raze the Harmony Grill, the restaurant next to Schubas and replace it with the more upscale Tied House, which opened in 2018. Schubas is a beloved music venue that draws indie bands and comedians. It opened in 1988, as the building was a former Schlitz beer brewery that dates back to 1903. Lincoln Hall replaced the 3 Penny Cinema and opened in 2009. Audiotree also serves as a music label.
The original report made no mention of Audiotree. That connection was only made Monday afternoon when a Twitter user mentioned it online. The resulting commotion forced Audiotree to make an Instagram post on Monday night stating that the company had removed Johnston on Saturday, November 12, and installed chief operating officer Adam Thurston as new president and CEO. Thurston and Johnston founded Audiotree together: “We respectfully ask for patience as we nativage this challenging time,” a portion of Audiotree’s Instagram post reads.
Johnston appeared in court on Wednesday, November 10, while Halverson hasn’t been criminally charged. His attorney provided a statement to NBC5, saying his client is taking the charges seriously. Johnston wasn’t reached for comment. His next court appearance is set for Wednesday, November 17. An Audiotree rep referred to the company’s social media post.