Filippo Bernardini impersonated agents and publishers to obtain manuscripts from writers including Atwood, McEwan and Rooney.
An Italian man admitted to stealing more than 1,000 unpublished manuscripts. They included those of well-known authors, solving a mystery that had puzzled the literary world for years.
Filippo Bernardini, 30, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, federal prosecutors in New York announced in a statement.
Worked for top publisher
Bernardini worked in London for the publisher Simon & Schuster. He impersonated agents and publishers over email to obtain novels and other works from writers and their representatives.
The scam was known in literary circles for several years. Among the novelists targeted were Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan and Sally Rooney. When FBI agents arrested Bernardini at New York’s JFK airport in January last year, it became public knowledge.
From August 2016, the Italian impersonated hundreds of people in the world of publishing by sending emails from fake accounts. Prosecutors say he registered more than 160 fraudulent domains.
“Filippo Bernardini used his insider knowledge of the publishing industry to create a scheme that stole precious works from authors and menaced the publishing industry,” said Damian Williams, the US attorney for the southern district of New York (SDNY).
However, the motive for Bernardini’s actions is not clear.
Bernardini initially pleaded not guilty. However, he changed his plea to guilty and agreed to pay restitution of $88,000, the SDNY said. His crime carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Bernardini will be sentenced in Manhattan federal court on 5 April. Simon & Schuster said it had been “shocked and horrified to learn of the allegations”.
“Protection of authors’ intellectual property is of the highest priority for Simon & Schuster,” the publisher said in a statement on Friday.
Stolen manuscripts never sold or ransom demanded
In 2019, Atwood’s agent revealed the manuscript for The Testaments had been targeted. Then in 2021, New York Magazine reported the Swedish editors of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series had been approached by a purported colleague in Italy requesting an advance copy so it could be translated before release.
Alleged victims were baffled by the fact the thefts were never followed by demands for money. Nor did the works ever seem to appear online or on the dark web.