For five years, a man who worked in publishing tricked authors and industry insiders into sending him hundreds of unpublished manuscripts, including one from a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, according to federal authorities.
Now, the alleged fraudster is facing federal charges. Filippo Bernardini, a 29-year-old Italian citizen who was working for publishing company Simon & Schuster UK as a rights coordinator, was arrested on Wednesday as he arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. He will appear in a federal court in Manhattan on Thursday.
Federal authorities says Bernardini impersonated real people in the publishing industry to fraudulently obtain manuscripts of novels and other books, and notes about those books. He obtained hundreds of unpublished manuscripts from Aug. 2016 to July 2021, according to prosecutors.
"Unpublished manuscripts are works of art to the writers who spend the time and energy creating them. Publishers do all they can to protect those unpublished pieces because of their value," Michael Driscoll, the assistant director-in-charge of the FBI's New York office, said in a statement.
"Mr. Bernardini was allegedly trying to steal other people's literary ideas for himself, but in the end he wasn't creative enough to get away with it," he said.
Bernardini did not immediately appear to have obtained legal representation. And despite the elaborate nature of his scheme, it's still unclear what his motivation was.
The scheme allegedly involved Bernardini creating fake email accounts and webpages that seemed to match real people in the publishing industry, including talent agents and people at publishing houses. Prosecutors say he had more than 160 internet domains that were deliberately designed to be "confusingly similar" to the real pages.
For example, the federal authorities say Bernardini would replace the lower-case "m" with the two letters "rn" to make them appear similar. And he designed a webpage that mimicked a scouting company's website and asked users to enter a username and password. That information was then automatically sent to his own email address.
Bernardini's employer, Simon & Schuster UK, said it was "shocked and horrified" to learn about the allegations. The publisher added that Bernardini has been suspended until more information comes to light.
"The safekeeping of our authors' intellectual property is of primary importance to Simon & Schuster, and for all in the publishing industry, and we are grateful to the FBI for investigating these incidents and bringing charges against the alleged perpetrator," the company said in a statement to NPR.
Bernardini is being charged with wire fraud, which has a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and aggravated identity theft, which has a mandatory sentence of two consecutive years in prison.