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Filippo Bernardini, the pirate lector

The arrest, this Thursday, of Filippo Bernardini, a 29-year-old Italian has solved part of one of the biggest mysteries in the Anglo-Saxon publishing world: that of the false editor who captured unpublished manuscripts by great authors before anyone else. He used all kinds of hoaxes and electronic tricks to get and read them. And then it disappeared.

Bernardini was arrested at New York's JFK airport this Thursday and has been charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft , crimes that can carry up to 22 years in prison. And that the prosecution has not been able to prove that he resold, leaked or plagiarized the originals.

Bernardini began operating in 2016. He posed as an employee from the prestigious Simon & Schuster publishing house and contacted authors, representatives and agents to try to access the most coveted manuscripts that were still unpublished. For years he managed “hundreds”, sometimes from known authors or their representatives, using false email addresses, details the indictment issued by the US justice, which does not give names.

The suspect registered web domains that changed a letter in an anodyne way in his address to simulate that they were from well-known companies. He created mailboxes with those domains and from them contacted publishers, agents or rights representatives to initiate a deal that would give him access to an expected original. He even created a 'phishing' to obtain the access codes to an agent's database and have access to more victims.

These usurpation attempts, sometimes unsuccessful, other Successful, they were always surrounded by mystery since thefts were not usually accompanied by blackmail or irregular publication of the works. In August 2021, the New York Magazine had reported how the Swedish publishers of the crime novel series “Millenium” were contacted by an alleged colleague in Italy, to send a secure address that gave access to the manuscript, which was in full process translation.

In 2019, Canadian author Margaret Atwood's agent revealed that the evidence of the expected continuation of “The Handmaid's Tale”, “The Testaments”, were one of the affected works. According to the indictment, which attributes to Bernardini the registration of “160 fraudulent internet domains”, a Pulitzer Prize winner had sent him “his manuscript” to be published convinced that he was its editor.

Writers such as Sally Rooney, Ian McEwan and actor Ethan Hawke were also contacted, according to the New York Times.

Bernardini has pleaded not guilty at his first appearance in court but has not explained his reasons. The indictment does not specify what he has done with the recovered manuscripts or whether he has made money for them. Nor does he mention possible accomplices.

His supposed position, moreover, ended up being real and last March he was hired by Simon & Schuster for its rights department. He wielded a degree in Chinese philology from the University of Milan, his extensive knowledge of the publishing world and a master's degree in publishing, according to his Linkedin page, which also remains to be seen if they are true.

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Simon & Schuster, for now, has “suspended” its employee, “while it awaits more information about the case”, while a spokesman said he was “shocked and horrified” by the behavior of the suspect. “Protection of the intellectual property of our authors is of paramount importance for Simon & Schuster and for the publishing sector as a whole “, adds the company, which appreciates the collaboration of the FBI.

Bernardini, meanwhile, has responded to a bond $ 300,000 “with his assets” and awaits to be called again by the judge from a New York apartment where he remains under “house arrest.” Reading, supposed.

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