A junior publishing employee has pleaded not guilty in a US court, after he was accused of impersonating editors and literary agents to steal manuscripts from prize winning authors.
Filippo Bernardini, who works as a junior “rights co-ordinator” 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 charge of wire fraud carries a maximum 20-year prison term, with aggravated identity theft adding another two year on to the sentence.
In an unsealed federal indictment, it is alleged that since 2016 Bernardini used fraudulent email addresses and 160 fake domain names to pose as prominent publishing bosses to access manuscripts.
This included at least one Pulitzer prizewinning author, who gave him an early copy of their work, according to reports by The Times.
The mystery behind this case roots in Bernardini’s motives. Unlike most fraudsters, he made no attempt to leak the stories or sell them on the black market, and the industry remains baffled at how and why he was able to get away with it.
US Attorneys have requested that Bernardini be kept in custody, regarding the Italian citizen as a flight risk.
The 29 year-old’s bail has been set to $300k (£221k) and his release is hinged on electronic monitoring being established.
Michael Driscoll, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York office, said the bureau believed Bernardini was trying to “steal other people’s literary ideas for himself”.
On his social media, he describes himself as an avid writer and creative, but question marks remain about why he would go to such lengths to read other writer’s early work.
No novelists have been explicitly named, but Margaret Atwood admitted that her literary agents were targeted in 2019 in the run-up to The Handmaid’s Tale release.
Simon & Schuster said it was “shocked and horrified to learn of the allegations of fraud and identity theft by an employee” and he has been suspended.
Late last year, US officials blocked Penguin Random House’s $2.2bn takeover of Simon & Schuster, saying the deal would give Penguin too much control over the publishing market.