A man suspected of defrauding writers to obtain unpublished manuscripts was arrested in New York on Wednesday. The United States Department of Justice reports in a statement that it is 29-year-old Italian Filippo Bernardini. One of his alleged victims is the Dutch writer Hanna Bervoets. The man himself claims to be innocent.
The Italian was arrested at JFK airport on Wednesday and has been charged with fraud and identity theft. According to Justice, he would have “impersonated a publisher for years in order to fraudulently obtain hundreds of unpublished manuscripts”.
These include novels and other books by authors around the world, such as Margaret Atwood, Sally Rooney and actor Ethan Hawke. Among his victims, according to Justice, is also a winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
Since 2016, the man has created at least 160 domain names and fake email addresses in order to persuade authors to send him unpublished manuscripts. In June last year, author Hanna Bervoets wrote in an article in de Volkskrant how she discovered that someone wanted to steal her manuscript. Bervoets, her publisher and other contacts received a Dutch e-mail from someone posing as her foreign agent. Since not everyone noticed that the email address differed from the official address, the scammer got hold of the manuscript.
According to his LinkedIn profile, the man would have worked for the British publisher Simon & Schuster in recent years. The American magazine Forbes writes that the publisher said in a statement that the allegations about the employee had been “approved and horrified”.
What Bernardini did with the stolen manuscripts remains unclear. None of the authors were ransom demanded and nothing has been published on the internet. “The thief has been caught,” Bervoets wrote on Instagram on Thursday. Her publisher, Mizzi van der Pluijm, tells de Volkskrant that she is “relieved” that a suspect has been arrested. She is convinced that Bernardini is very familiar with the working method in the publishing world because it is “very difficult to get hold of a manuscript”.
Bernardini appeared in court on Thursday, where he said he was innocent. After paying a bail of 300,000 dollars (265,000 euros) and surrendering his passport, Bernardini was allowed to leave the court. If found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in prison.