As an employee of Simon & Schuster, London-based Filippo Bernardini would’ve been expected to act in the interests of the publishing sector. According to a federal indictment unsealed early 2022, that was certainly not the case.
Between August 2016 and July 2021, Bernardini used his insider knowledge as a rights coordinator to execute an audacious plan that would see him obtain more than a thousand pre-release manuscripts of novels and other unreleased books.
Following his arrest by the FBI, after touching down at John F. Kennedy International Airport last January, the Department of Justice revealed an extraordinarily complex operation that relied on deception and Bernardini’s knowledge of the publishing world.
Unpicking Pre-Release Content Security
In all entertainment industry sectors, content being prepared for general release is closely guarded. Unfinished works leaking out to the public can wreak havoc on everyone involved, from authors and publishers to interested parties in film and other secondary markets. Bernardini understood that and went ahead anyway.
U.S. authorities said that Bernardini registered more than 160 domain names that masqueraded as real entities and individuals in the publishing sector. Talent agencies, publishing houses, and literary scouts had their names carefully mimicked in domains with subtle typographical errors, not unlike those deployed in phishing operations.
Supported by those domains, Bernardini created email addresses in the names of real people who worked at the entities he mimicked, and used them to contact authors, managers, agents, publishers, and editors. When he solicited copies of unpublished books, novels and other content, targets believed they were speaking to someone in a position of trust.
Impersonated Hundreds of People
Emails recovered by the authorities revealed that Bernardini had impersonated hundreds of people across hundreds of attempts to obtain electronic copies of unreleased content. Some unsuspecting targets were lured to fake websites where they entered their usernames and passwords, only to have them phished and subsequently used by Bernardini in furtherance of his scheme.
In the wake of his arrest, the Italian citizen pleaded not guilty to several charges, including obtaining property under false and fraudulent pretenses and aggravated identity theft. Another charge – causing valuable and unpublished literary manuscripts to be sent and received by wire – carried the prospect of a 20-year prison sentence.
Bernadini Pleads Guilty
On January 6, 2023, a flurry of court filings, including superseding information from the prosecution (pdf), a waiver of indictment (pdf), and Bernardini’s consent to proceed before a magistrate judge (pdf), signaled a change of direction for the Italian.
Filippo Bernardini pled guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with his multi-year scheme, through which it’s now claimed he obtained more manuscripts than the hundreds announced earlier.
“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,” says U.S. Attorney Damian Williams.
“Through impersonation and phishing schemes, Bernardini was able to obtain more than a thousand manuscripts fraudulently. I commend the career prosecutors of this Office as well as our law enforcement partners for writing the final chapter to Bernardini’s manuscript theft scheme.”
The now 30-year-old has agreed to pay restitution of $88,000 and is scheduled to be sentenced before U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon on April 5, 2023.