Simon & Schuster: London man, 29, accused of stealing unpublished books bailed by New York judge

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  • Filippo Bernardini
    Italian archbishop and diplomat
  • Margaret Atwood
    Margaret Atwood
    Canadian writer

A London-based employee at Simon & Schuster pleaded not guilty in a New York court to stealing unpublished manuscripts of hundreds of authors by impersonating editors and agents.

Filippo Bernardini, 29, allegedly hoped to claim the literary ideas as his own.

The Italian national entered his plea on Thursday before magistrate judge Robert Lehrburger in Manhattan, one day after his arrest upon arriving at JFK International Airport.

Prosecutors said since 2016 Bernardini, whose LinkedIn entry describes him as a rights coordinator, created fake email addresses and registered more than 160 bogus domain names to impersonate people and companies in publishing.

They said Bernardini would often replace a lower case “m” with an “rn” so that, for example, “simonandschuster” might appear as "sirnonandschuster."

Bernardini’s alleged victims included a Pulitzer Prize winner, and according to published reports also included Margaret Atwood, Normal People author Sally Rooney and the actor Ethan Hawke.

In a 2019 interview, Ms Atwood confirmed there had been “concerted efforts to steal the manuscript” of her book The Testaments, before it was released.

She said: “There were lots of phoney emails from people trying to winkle even just three pages, even just anything.”

Rejecting a prosecutor’s request for detention, Lehrburger set Bernardini’s bail at $300,000 (£221,200), secured by the London home of his partner who attended the hearing.

Sally Rooney (Kalpesh Lathigra)
Sally Rooney (Kalpesh Lathigra)

Bernardini will surrender his passport and submit to electronic monitoring.

Assistant US attorney Daniel Nessim had called Bernardini an “overwhelming” flight risk, and said the defendant had asked law enforcement upon being arrested: ‘I’m not a U.S. citizen, how could I be charged in the U.S?’”

But Bernardini’s lawyer, federal public defender Hannah McCrea, said Bernardini could stay with a friend in Manhattan’s West Village.

His partner agreed to surrender his own passport for two months.

“This is a very humbling experience” for the defendant, McCrea said. “He intends to take it seriously.”

Simon & Schuster was not accused of wrongdoing.

In a statement, it said it was “shocked and horrified” by the accusations, and has suspended Bernardini.

“The safekeeping of our authors’ intellectual property is of primary importance to Simon & Schuster,” the publisher added.

Bernardini was charged with wire fraud, carrying a maximum 20-year prison term, and aggravated identity theft, which could add two years.

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