‘Book thief’ who targeted Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke arrested

Suspect’s motive remains unclear as the stolen works were never reproduced or pirated

Maanya Sachdeva
Thursday 06 January 2022 14:18 GMT
<p>Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke</p>

Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke

An Italian man accused of stealing hundreds of prized book manuscripts was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New York on Wednesday (5 January).

Filippo Bernardini, 29, has been charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for conning authors as part of a scheme that dates back to “at least” August 2016, according to the US attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Authorities believe Bernardini – who was arrested at John F Kennedy airport – impersonated agents, publishing houses, literary scouts and editors to acquire pre-publication manuscripts, and other materials related to forthcoming books and novels.

Prosecutors said their suspect created fake email IDs – with slightly misspelled names and details – to approach his targets, such as replacing the lowercase letter “m” with the lowercase letter “n”.

Over the course of the scheme, he allegedly created over 160 fraudulent internet domains to represent publishing industry professionals and target big-name authors like Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke, as well as relatively unknown writers.

In September 2020, Bernardini allegedly duped a Pulitzer Prize-winning author into sharing a copy of their forthcoming book, by impersonating a prominent editor.

Bernardini, who lives in London, works as a rights coordinator at well-regarded publishing company Simon & Schuster. The indictment states that he has also worked as an Italian-language translator of written materials.

‘Book thief’ allegedly targeted big-name authors like Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke

As reported by Vulture, Bernardini communicated with unsuspecting authors and other industry professionals in at least 10 languages. According to his LinkedIn, he is proficient in languages including Arabic, Dutch, German, and Hebrew.

A spokesperson for Simon & Schuster told The New York Times that the company was “shocked and horrified” by the charges against Bernardini.

“The safekeeping of our authors’ intellectual property is of primary importance to Simon & Schuster, and for all in the publishing industry, and we are grateful to the FBI for investigating these incidents and bringing charges against the alleged perpetrator,” they added.

The company also said Bernardini has been suspended.

While the indictment includes multiple details about Bernardini’s modus operandi, it does not provide any insight into his motives. The illegally acquired manuscripts were never reproduced or pirated and no ransom demands were ever made.

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