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An employee of Simon & Schuster UK has been arrested for allegedly stealing hundreds of unpublished manuscripts.
The FBI arrested Italian citizen Filippo Bernardini, 29, on Wednesday and charged him 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,” states a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.
Bernardini, who works for Simon & Schuster UK in London, allegedly began posing as other publishing professionals using fake email accounts in 2016. He is alleged to have created the 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," said investigators. Bernardini in turn, allegedly “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.”
For years, authors have complained of a phishing scheme which robbed them of their intellectual property. Margaret Atwood, for example, told The Bookseller in 2019, that there had "concerted efforts to steal the manuscript" of her book “The Testaments,” the BBC reports.
None of the manuscripts that Bernardini obtained were ever published online, reports the Guardian.
“If you try to find financial and economic gain, it’s of course hard to see,” said Daniel Sandström a Swedish publisher that was targeted multiple times, “But if the game is psychological, a kind of mastery or feeling of superiority, it’s easier to visualise. This is a business full of resentment as well, and in that sense, it becomes a good story.”
Bernardini could face up to 24 years behind bars if convicted.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in the press release. “This real-life storyline now reads as a cautionary tale, with the plot twist of Barnardini facing federal criminal charges for his misdeeds.”
Simon & Schuster has suspended Bernardini and stated that they are “shocked and horrified” over the allegations, Forbes reports.
It’s not clear if Bernardini has an attorney.
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