John F. Kennedy Airport in New York was the scene of an arrest orchestrated by the FBI on Wednesday, January 5 in the afternoon. The accused, aged 29, is named Filippo Bernardini, but he has adopted, according to the accusations against him, many identities in recent years.
Prosecutor Damian Williams, who supervised the arrest with Michael J. Driscoll, deputy director of the New York office of the FBI, indicates that ” Filippo Bernardini appropriated the identity of several representatives of the publishing world to push authors, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, to send him manuscripts before publication, for his own benefit. “
The charges against Bernardini are particularly heavy, and could lead to him up to 22 years in prison, for ” electronic fraud ” and ” aggravated identity theft “. According to the FBI investigation, Filippo Bernardini would have laid the foundations for his scam as early as August 2016, using fake email addresses that reproduced those of the individuals he wanted to embody. In total, he would have registered 160 email addresses, at least.
To fool the authors he contacted, Bernardini used e-mail addresses modeled on those of the real interlocutors: he replaced for example the “m” of the legitimate address by an “rn” in his dummy address, so that a quick reading of the latter does not allow the victim to detect identity theft. In September 2020, Bernardini thus managed to obtain the manuscript of a work signed by a Pulitzer Prize winner, posing as his usual publisher.
Another package alleged against Bernardini, the theft of personal information and unauthorized access to a database, that of a literary agency. To do this, the scammer had reproduced almost identically the home page of the agency’s website, before impersonating one of the employees in order to encourage colleagues to connect by entering their credentials on this bogus page. In this way, he was able to recover those usernames and passwords, and thus gain access to the database.
A crook among publishers
For now, the charges against Bernardini do not mention damages – the man is expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan on Thursday, January 6. But, a priori, he would have drawn a financial benefit from his actions, since the prosecutor accuses him of a swindle ” for fraud and to obtain money or property “.
Filippo Bernardini’s ploy was made easier by his membership in the publishing industry: Filippo Bernardini was indeed copyright manager for publisher Simon & Schuster UK, and worked in London. As Michael J. Driscoll points out, he thus made the most of his “ professional knowledge », Which does not risk settling his case before the judge.
The publishing house, in a statement, assures that ” protecting the intellectual property of our authors is a matter of primary importance to Simon & Schuster, as it is to the entire publishing industry, and we are relieved that the FBI has been able to investigate these incidents and is carrying charges. charges against the alleged culprit “.
Bernardini’s arrest could end a mystery that has puzzled the English-language publishing industry for several years. The discovery of several scam attempts indeed left professionals skeptical: Margaret Atwood, for the release of her book The Testaments, had been targeted, like other lesser-known authors. The investigation and the hearings to come will say if Bernardini orchestrated these cases, which worried the industry somewhat.
JUSTICE: Cyber malevolence also hits publishing
The purpose of these thefts will also, without a doubt, be brought to light by the courts: the manuscripts and other drafts of unpublished books could have been transmitted, in return for payment, to agencies of ” literary scouts », Responsible for locating authors, books and business opportunities. Viewing manuscripts in preview would have given them a head start, commercially, against the competition: other professionals could find themselves dragged by Bernardini in his downfall …
Almost moralist, the prosecutor Damian Williams sees in the arrest of Bernardini ” an edifying tale, whose turnaround is found in the indictment of Bernardini for his crimes “.
Photography: illustration, Office of Public Affairs, CC BY 2.0
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Filippo Bernardini, thief and trafficker of unpublished manuscripts, arrested by the FBI