Italian man pleads guilty to book fraud scheme in US court | Crime News

Filippo Bernardini would focus on top authors such as Margaret Atwood, as well as emerging talent in publishing.

An Italian man accused of fraudulently obtaining more than 1,000 book manuscripts for publication pleaded guilty in a US court on Friday.

Filippo Bernardini, a 30-year-old publishing industry worker who used to live in London, faces one count of wire fraud for designing a multi-year scheme to target emerging writers, as well as big names such as Canada’s Margaret Atwood, author from The Handmaid’s Tale.

He risks up to 20 years in prison for the arrangement. At Friday’s hearing, Bernardini also agreed to pay $88,000 in restitution.

“Unpublished manuscripts are works of art for the writers who spend the time and energy to create them,” said Michael Driscoll, assistant director of the New York office of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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“Mr. Bernardini would try to steal other people’s literary ideas for himself, but in the end he wasn’t creative enough to get away with it.”

Bernardini was arrested at the John F Kennedy International Airport in New York in January 2022. US Justice officials have accused him of impersonating editors, talent agents and other individuals to obtain advance copies of unpublished books.

The scheme began around August 2016, investigators said. Based on his knowledge of the industry, Bernardini began registering more than 160 Internet domains that had names similar to existing publishing houses and literary scouts.

However, these domains showed slight variations from the originals, prosecutors said. Where a real name might contain the letter “m”, Bernardini would place a lowercase “r” and “n” close together to mimic the shape of the letter.

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In one case, the Justice Department said he used one of his ersatz email addresses to contact a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. The author believed Bernardini to be her editor, and forwarded him a copy of a forthcoming manuscript.

Another tactic Bernardini allegedly employed was a phishing scheme, where he created a real-looking website that asked users to provide their email and passwords. Posing as a member of a talent scouting company, he emailed links to this website to two publishing industry insiders.

The website, prosecutors said, was designed to send the confidential information to Bernardini’s email account.

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Bernardini has offered no motive for his alleged actions and has not attempted to sell any of the book manuscripts. Among the authors caught up in the scheme were the American actor Ethan Hawke and the British Booker Prize winner Ian McEwan.

His hearing is set for April 5 in the courtroom of US District Judge Colleen McMahon.

In a statement on Friday, US District Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams praised law enforcement and prosecutors for writing “the final chapter in Bernardini’s manuscript theft scheme”.

“This real-life storyline now reads like a cautionary tale,” Williams had previously said, “with the plot twist of Bernardini facing federal criminal charges for his crimes.”

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