They were confusing flights, not particularly lucrative, but which intrigued the hushed world of publishing. Filippo Bernardini, a 29-year-old Italian, employed by the British publisher Simon & Schuster, pleaded not guilty on Thursday January 6 to having stolen or wanted to steal, since the summer of 2016, the manuscripts of unpublished books by authors as famous as Margaret Atwood or Stieg Larsson.
The FBI arrested him on Wednesday as he got off the plane at New York’s John Fitzgerald-Kennedy Airport. Presented the next day in a New York federal court, Mr. Bernardini was charged with electronic fraud and aggravated identity theft, crimes punishable by twenty-two years in prison. He was put on a $ 300,000 bond, “Which will be guaranteed on its property”, and was placed in “House arrest” with ” curfew “, a spokesperson for the Manhattan federal prosecutor told Agence France-Presse.
Employed in London at Simon & Schuster, he is suspected of having received “Hundreds of unpublished manuscripts”, sometimes with known authors or their representatives, by writing to them from false e-mail addresses of managers of publishing houses or literary agents, details the indictment issued by the American justice system.
In 2019, the author Margaret Atwood was among those targeted, her agent had revealed, and in particular the trials of Testaments, the long-awaited sequel to The Scarlet Maid. According to a survey by New York Times, in December 2020, other authors, such as Sally Rooney, Ian McEwan, or actor Ethan Hawke had also been targeted.
According to American justice, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize had transmitted to Mr. Bernardini “His manuscript to be published”, thinking he was his publisher. Mr. Bernardini’s motives remain unclear. The indictment does not specify what he did with the recovered works or whether he cashed them.
For its part, Simon & Schuster announced to have “Suspended” his employee, “Pending further information on the case”, saying “Shocked and horrified” by the actions of the suspect.