FBI arrests Italian man working for Simon & Schuster accused of stealing hundreds of unpublished book manuscripts

The literary arrest of the year already!

Authors whose manuscripts he stole included Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke whose ideas ‘he planned to use for his own books’

The NY Times reports

They were perplexing thefts, lacking a clear motive or payoff, and they happened in the genteel, not particularly lucrative world of publishing: Someone was stealing unpublished book manuscripts.

The thefts and attempted thefts occurred primarily over email, by a fraudster impersonating publishing professionals and targeting authors, editors, agents and literary scouts who might have drafts of novels and other books.

The mystery may now be solved. On Wednesday, the FBI arrested Filippo Bernardini, a 29-year-old, London-based rights coordinator for Simon & Schuster UK, saying that he “impersonated, defrauded, and attempted to defraud, hundreds of individuals” over five or more years, obtaining hundreds of unpublished manuscripts in the process.

Bernardini, who was arrested after landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport, was charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. In a statement, the U.S. District Attorney’s Office said he would appear Thursday before a magistrate judge in Manhattan.

A Simon & Schuster spokesman, in a statement, said that the publisher was “shocked and horrified” by the allegations Bernardini faces and that he has been suspended until there is further information on the case.

“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,” he added. Simon & Schuster was not accused of wrongdoing in the indictment.


Here’s the official DOJ statement

Italian Citizen Arrested In Online Impersonation Scheme To Fraudulently Obtain Prepublication Manuscripts Of Novels And Other Books

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Michael J. Driscoll, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the unsealing of an indictment charging FILIPPO BERNARDINI with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, in connection with a multi-year scheme to impersonate individuals involved in the publishing industry in order to fraudulently obtain hundreds of prepublication manuscripts of novels and other forthcoming books.  BERNARDINI was arrested this afternoon when he arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport.  He will be presented tomorrow before United States Magistrate Judge Robert W. Lehrburger in Manhattan federal court.  The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said:  “Filippo Bernardini allegedly impersonated publishing industry individuals in order to have authors, including a Pulitzer prize winner, send him prepublication manuscripts for his own benefit. This real-life storyline now reads as a cautionary tale, with the plot twist of Barnardini facing federal criminal charges for his misdeeds.”

Assistant Director-in-Charge Driscoll said: “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. We allege Mr. Bernardini used his insider knowledge of the industry to get authors to send him their unpublished books and texts by posing as agents, publishing houses, and literary scouts. 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.”

According to the Indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:[1]

Beginning in at least August 2016, BERNARDINI, who was based in London and worked in the publishing industry, began impersonating agents, editors, and other individuals involved in publishing to fraudulently obtain prepublication manuscripts.  These prepublication manuscripts are valuable, and the unauthorized release of a manuscript can dramatically undermine the economics of publishing, and publishing houses generally work to identify and stop the release of pirated, prepublication, manuscripts.  Such pirating can also undermine the secondary markets for published work, such as film and television, and can harm an author’s reputation where an early draft of written material is distributed in a working form that is not in a finished state.

In carrying out this scheme, BERNARDINI created fake email accounts that were designed to impersonate real people employed in the publishing industry, including literary talent agencies, publishing houses, literary scouts, and others.  BERNARDINI created these accounts by registering more than 160 internet domains that were crafted to be confusingly similar to the real entities that they were impersonating, including only minor typographical errors that would be difficult for the average recipient to identity during a cursory review.  Among other things, BERNARDINI often replaced the lower-case letter <m> with the lower-case letters <r> and <n>, which, when placed together as <rn>, resemble an <m>.   For example, in or about September 2020, BERNARDINI utilized a fraudulent email address impersonating a well-known editor and publisher (“Editor-1”) who worked for an imprint of a U.S. publishing house (“Publisher-1”).  Impersonating Editor-1, BERNARDINI emailed a Pulitzer Prize winning author (“Author-1”) and requested a copy of a word version of Author-1’s forthcoming manuscript, which Author-1 sent to BERARDINI, believing him to be Editor-1.  Over the course of this scheme, BERNARDINI impersonated hundreds of distinct people and engaged in hundreds of unique efforts to fraudulently obtain electronic copies of manuscripts that he was not entitled to.

In addition, BERNARDINI engaged in a phishing scheme to surreptitiously gain access to a database maintained by a New York City-based literary scouting company (“Scouting Company-1”).  BERNARDINI created a webpage that impersonated Scouting Company-1’s website.  Then, in or about July 2020, BERNARDINI impersonated a Scouting Company-1 employee and emailed two individuals, directing them to BERNARDINI’s look-alike webpage and prompting the users to provide their usernames and passwords.  BERNARDINI’s webpage was programmed to automatically forward the input usernames and passwords to an email account controlled by BERNARDINI.

*                      *                      *

FILIPPO BERNARDINI, 29, of London, United Kingdom is charged with (1) wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; and (2) aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory consecutive sentence of 2 years in prison.  The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Williams praised the investigative work of the FBI.  Mr. Williams also thanked the U.S. Customs and Border Protection for its assistance in this investigation.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel G. Nessim is in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Indictment, and the description of the Indictment set forth herein, constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.