A junior publishing employee has pleaded not guilty in a U.S. court after being charged with impersonating publishers and literary agents to steal manuscripts from award-winning authors.
Filippo Bernardini, who works as a junior ârights coordinatorâ for Simon & Schuster in London, was arrested by the FBI at a New York airport and charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
The wire fraud charge carries a maximum jail term of 20 years, with aggravated identity theft adding another two years to the sentence.
In an unsealed federal indictment, it is alleged that since 2016, Bernardini has used fraudulent email addresses and 160 fake domain names to impersonate publishing leaders in order to gain access to manuscripts.
This included at least one Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who gave him a first copy of their work, according to the Times reports.
The mystery behind this case has its roots in Bernardini’s motives. Unlike most scammers, he made no attempt to divulge the stories or sell them on the black market, and the industry remains puzzled as to how and why he got away with it.
US prosecutors have demanded that Bernardini be kept in detention, considering the Italian citizen a risk of absconding.
The 29-year-old’s bail has been set at $ 300,000 (Â£ 221,000) and his release is dependent on electronic surveillance being put in place.
Michael Driscoll, deputy director in charge of the FBI’s New York office, said the office believed Bernardini was trying to “steal other people’s literary ideas for himself.”
On his social media, he describes himself as a passionate and creative writer, but question marks remain as to why he would go to such lengths to read another writer’s early work.
No novelist has been explicitly named, but Margaret Atwood admitted that her literary agents were targeted in 2019 in the run-up to the release of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Simon & Schuster said he was “shocked and horrified to learn of the allegations of employee fraud and identity theft” and was suspended.
Late last year, U.S. officials blocked Penguin Random House’s $ 2.2 billion buyout of Simon & Schuster, claiming the deal would give Penguin too much control over the publishing market. .