They were committing shocking thefts, lacking a clear purpose or return, and that happened in Gentle, not in a particularly attractive world for publication: someone was stealing unpublished book manuscripts.
Thefts and thefts were attempted primarily by email, by a fraudster pretending to be publishing professionals and targeting writers, editors, agents, and literary scouts who may have drafts of novels and other books.
The mystery can now be solved. On Wednesday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Simon and Schuster, a 29-year-old UK rights coordinator, Filippo Bernardini, saying he had “pretended, cheated and tried to deceive” hundreds of individuals in five years or more.
Mr. John F. Bernardini, who was arrested after landing at Kennedy International Airport, was charged in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York with wire fraud and burglary. Said Mr. planned for the Southern District. Bernardini did not yet have a lawyer.
Simon & Schuster, the publisher, said in a statement that the publisher was “shocked and intimidated” by Mr. Bernardini has a face and has been suspended pending further information about the case.
“The protection of the intellectual property of our authors is of paramount importance to Simon and Schuster and to all in the publishing industry, and we are grateful to the FBI for investigating these incidents and bringing charges against the alleged perpetrators,” he added. Simon and Schuster were not charged in the indictment.
According to the allegation, to get his hands on the manuscripts, Mr. Using Bernardi’s fake email address will send emails pretending to be real people working in the publishing industry – certain editors, for example -. It will use slightly tweaked domain names like penguinrandornhouse.com instead of penguinrandomhouse.com, replacing “m” with “rn”. The indictment states that it has registered more than 160 fraudulent Internet domains that impersonate publishing professionals and companies.
Mr. Bernardini also targeted the New York City-based literary scouting company. He set up fake login pages that encouraged his victims to enter their usernames and passwords, which gave him extensive access to the scouting company’s database.
Mr. Bernardini left his last name on his social media accounts, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, and left a few digital crumbs online, describing his “obsession with written words and languages.” According to his LinkedIn profile, he received a bachelor’s degree in Chinese from Universita Catolika in Milan and later served as Italian translator for the memoir “Our Story” by Chinese comic book writer Rao Pingaru. He also holds a master’s degree in publishing from University College London and “books can be read and enjoyed all over the world and in multiple languages.”
Many publishers of phishing email recipients noticed that anyone who wrote them was clearly familiar with the industry. The thief sometimes used a simple abbreviation such as “ms” for the manuscript, and he understood how the book got from one point to another on the way to publication. The phishing attacks have been so massive and far-reaching that they have hit publishing professionals in the United States, Sweden and Taiwan, among other countries, with some saying it could not be the work of just one person.
Over the years, the scheme has amazed people in the book world. The works are targeted at high-profile authors and celebrities such as Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawk, but so are story collections and first-time authors. When the manuscripts were successfully stolen, none of them appeared on the black market or on the Dark Web. The ransom demand was never met. Indeed, the details of the allegation are how Mr. Went about Bernardini’s plan, but why not.
Early knowledge in the rights department can be beneficial for an employee trying to prove his worth. Publishers compete and bid to publish work abroad, for example, and companies can get an edge by knowing what is coming, who is buying what and how much they are paying.
Literary scout Kelly Farber said, “What he’s stealing is basically a huge amount of information that any publisher can use anywhere.”
In a news release announcing the arrest, U.S. Attorney Damien Williams said: “This real-life story is now being read as a precautionary story, with Bernardini facing federal criminal charges for his misdeeds.”