Manuscript Thief Caught

The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Filippo Bernardini, a 29-year-old Italian junior rights manager at Simon & Schuster UK, on January 5, 2022, charging him with wire fraud and ‘‘aggravated identity theft.’’ He was apprehended when his flight landed at New York’s JFK airport. Bernardini is allegedly the person behind a series of baffling crimes, in which he impersonated other publishing professionals and set up fake websites in order to obtain hundreds of draft and unpublished manuscripts. The thief’s existence was well known in the field, though their motive was never clear, as the stolen books didn’t show up for sale and were never leaked online.

Bernardini pled not guilty and was soon released on $300,000 bail, secured by the home of Bernardini’s partner in London. Bernardini surrendered his passport. Assistant US Attorney Daniel Nessim called him an ‘‘overwhelming’’ flight risk, and reported that he questioned whether the FBI could even arrest him, reportedly saying, ‘‘I’m not a US citizen, how could I be charged in the US?’’

Bernardini allegedly tricked people into sending him manuscripts by writing from email addresses that resembled official ones, creating over 160 domains. He ‘‘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.’’ The FBI also accused him of a 2020 ‘‘phishing scheme to surreptitiously gain access to a database maintained by a New York City-based literary scouting company,’’ by obtaining legitimate login information and using them to access the site.

Mikke Driscoll, assistant director of the New York office of the FBI, said,

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 Bernardini used his insider knowledge of the industry to get authors to send him their unpublished books and texts by posing as agents, publishing houses, and literary scouts.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.

The US Attorney for New York’s Southern District says,

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.

Bernardini reportedly began working at Simon & Schuster UK in late 2019, and had some prior experience at literary agencies. He lived in London.

Simon & Schuster’s president and CEO Jonathan Karp told staff that the company was involved in the arrest, saying that parent company Viacom’s Information Security Group ‘‘investigated and reported their findings to the FBI.’’ He said,

It is our understanding that the information provided by the VCBS team to the FBI proved crucial in facilitating the FBI’s investigation and arrest…. Like others in the publishing industry, we have been aware for nearly two years of phishing scams aimed at stealing intellectual property. When it became clear that these attempted thefts were not isolated events, we alerted our staff and our authors, in multiple communications, to be vigilant, while sharing information about the types of deception used by the scammer and best practices to defend against such attacks. We also informed the ViacomCBS Information Security Group about these events and provided them with the relevant phishing emails.

Simon & Schuster was ‘‘shocked and horrified’’ to learn their employee might be involved, and suspended Bernardini while the case is pending: ‘‘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.’’

For more, see the US Attorney’s release.

See this listing and more like it in the February 2022 issue of Locus.

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