Man Arrested in Thefts of Unpublished Book Manuscripts

From an AP story by Deepti Hajela headlined “Mystery solved? Man arrested in thefts of unpublished books”:

Authorities say they’ve solved a publishing industry whodunit with the arrest of a man accused of numerous literary heists in recent years, allegedly impersonating others in the industry to amass a veritable library of unpublished works.

Filippo Bernardini, an Italian citizen working in publishing in London, was arrested after arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport, said Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Bernardini, 29, faces charges including wire fraud, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, and aggravated identity theft. He was expected to appear in federal court on Thursday….

For years, the publishing industry has been baffled by an international phishing scheme in which someone with apparent inside knowledge impersonated an editor or an agent — by setting up a fake email account — and attempted to trick an author or an editor into sending links to unpublished manuscripts. Works by Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke were among those targeted.

The ongoing scheme was all the more mysterious because whoever was seeking the manuscripts was apparently not attempting to sell them or otherwise publicly exploit having them.

“Bernardini allegedly impersonated publishing industry individuals in order to have authors, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, send him prepublication manuscripts for his own benefit,” Williams said….

According to the indictment against Bernardini, which was filed in July but only unsealed on Wednesday, the schemes had been taking place from at least August 2016 through July of last year.

It said Bernardini “used fraudulent, look-alike, domains to impersonate individuals involved in the publishing industry to gain surreptitious access to these materials,” and that over the years he “impersonated, defrauded, and attempted to defraud, hundreds of individuals.”

Bernardini collected hundreds of unpublished works, according to the indictment.

In the indictment, Bernardini was described as working in London for a “major, international, US-based publishing house.” A LinkedIn profile for a Filippo B. said he worked for Simon & Schuster.

In a statement, the publisher said it was “shocked and horrified to learn today of the allegations of fraud and identity theft by an employee of Simon & Schuster UK.”

The publisher said Bernardini had been suspended pending additional information, adding, “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.”

Also see the New York Times story by Elizabeth A. Harris headlined “FBI Arrests Man Accused of Stealing Unpublished Book Manuscripts.” The opening grafs:

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 Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Filippo Bernardini, a 29-year-old 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….

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

According to the indictment, to get his hands on the manuscripts, Mr. Bernardini would send out emails impersonating real people working in the publishing industry — a specific editor, for example — by using fake email addresses. He would employ slightly tweaked domain names like penguinrandornhouse.com instead of penguinrandomhouse.com, — putting an “rn” in place of an “m.” The indictment said he had registered more than 160 fraudulent internet domains that impersonated publishing professionals and companies.

Mr. Bernardini also targeted a New York City-based literary scouting company. He set up impostor login pages that prompted his victims to enter their usernames and passwords, which gave him broad access to the scouting company’s database….

Speak Your Mind

*