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Italian Literary Scam Artist Arrested

In September 2020, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author received an email from a well-known book editor asking for a copy of the writer’s upcoming novel in a Word document. The author promptly replied with the manuscript, but the person making the request wasn’t the esteemed editor. It was a notorious scammer who for years fooled hundreds in the publishing industry into sending over precious unpublished manuscripts, reports the Washington Post. The scheme mystified the book community because the manuscripts — which came from high-profile authors like Margaret Atwood and Kiley Reid and actor Ethan Hawke — were never leaked, put on the black market or made the subjects of ransom threats. Now, federal prosecutors say they may have found the elusive thief: Filippo Bernardini, a 29-year-old Italian citizen working in London at an international publishing house. He was arrested shortly after arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Wednesday and charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. The indictment does not name Bernardini's employer, but a LinkedIn profile shows he works as a rights coordinator for Simon & Schuster UK. A Simon & Schuster spokesperson said Bernardini has been suspended and that the company was “shocked and horrified to learn today of the allegations of fraud and identity theft by an employee.” From around August 2016 to July 2021, Bernardini registered more than 160 Internet domains that impersonated websites for publishing houses, literary talent agencies and scouts as a means of collecting hundreds of unpublished book manuscripts. Bernardini allegedly used common phishing techniques to make the email addresses appear legitimate, like replacing the letter “m” in macmillan.com with the two letters “rn.” He made “minor typographical errors that would be difficult for the average recipient to identify during a cursory review,” prosecutors said. Authorities did not explain a motive for the alleged scam. FBI agent Michael Driscoll said Bernardini abused his “insider knowledge … to steal other people’s literary ideas for himself, but in the end he wasn’t creative enough to get away with it.”

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