Skip to main content
Press Release

Bookkeeper at Two West Loop Restaurants Arrested on Federal Fraud Charge for Allegedly Misappropriating More Than $600,000

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Illinois

CHICAGO — A former bookkeeper for two restaurants in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago was arrested today on a federal fraud charge for allegedly misappropriating more than $600,000 from the eateries.

RENEE M. JOHNSON worked as a bookkeeper for One Off Hospitality LLC, which owns several bars and restaurants in Chicago, including the West Loop eateries Blackbird and Avec.  Johnson was a signatory on One Off’s bank accounts, and her duties included processing checks to vendors who provided food, labor and utilities to the restaurants.  According to a federal criminal complaint, Johnson wrote hundreds of unauthorized checks from One Off’s accounts to pay for her personal expenses, including credit card debt and mortgages on real estate holdings in Chicago.  From 2011 to 2017, the scheme caused a loss of approximately $604,113, mostly sustained by Blackbird and Avec, the complaint states.

Johnson, 60, of Chicago, was charged with one count of mail fraud.  She was taken into custody this morning and is scheduled to make an initial court appearance at 3:00 p.m. today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheila M. Finnegan.

The complaint was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and Jeffrey S. Sallet, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

According to the complaint, Johnson made fraudulent entries in One Off’s accounting system to hide the theft.  She often made a check payable to one of her own personal creditors, but deleted the entry in One Off’s system, the complaint states.  In some instances Johnson cut a check to pay personal expenses, and then quickly cut a new check with the same check number to pay for a legitimate corporate expenditure, according to the complaint.

The public is reminded that a complaint is not evidence of guilt.  The defendant is presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Mail fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.  If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sunil R. Harjani.

Updated April 4, 2018

Financial Fraud