An Italian citizen has pleaded guilty to fraud in a New York City court after impersonating editors and agents over several years in order to steal unpublished book manuscripts, many written by famous authors, federal prosecutors have said.
Filippo Bernardini, 30, confessed to one count of wire fraud in relation to the scheme before US Magistrate Judge Sarak Netburn on Friday in a federal court in Manhattan.
The Italian, who worked in London for American publishing giant Simon & Schuster, used his inside knowledge of the industry to dupe scores of authors into handing over their unpublished works, according to prosecutors.
“Through impersonation and phishing schemes, Bernardini was able to obtain more than a thousand manuscripts fraudulently,” US Attorney Damian Williams said.
Bernardini “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,” according to a statement by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
The accused created fake email 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 identify during a cursory review,” officials said.
According to prosecutors, the scheme began “at least” as early as August 2016 and continued until January last year, when the man was arrested by the FBI in John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Bernardini has so far not explained publicly the motives behind his actions. According to the media, the stolen manuscripts were neither leaked on the internet, nor were any ransom demands made. Those who fell victim to the scheme reportedly include renowned Canadian novelist and poet Margaret Atwood, award-winning British author Ian McEwan, and Irish novelist and screenwriter Sally Rooney.
As part of his guilty plea, Bernardini agreed to pay restitution of $88,000, officials said. He will be sentenced on April 5. The maximum penalty he could face is 20 years in jail.