Simon & Schuster employee pleads not guilty to stealing manuscripts

Simon & Schuster employee appears in court in New York and pleads not guilty to stealing manuscripts by authors including Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke as his bail set at $300,000

  • Filippo Bernardini, 29, was arrested on Wednesday at JFK Airport in New York 
  • He pleaded not guilty today to stealing manuscripts by authors including Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke 
  • He works for Simon & Schuster in London as a low-level rights coordinator
  • Prosecutors say he has been impersonating publishing execs since 2016 to steal unpublished manuscripts
  • The scam has stumped the publishing world for years and the mystery thief has been known as ‘The Spine Collector’ 
  • Bernardini never sold the books – he wanted to use the ideas for his own masterpiece, according to prosecutors
  • It is alleged he would use fake email addresses, changing one letter in the address, to dupe the agents then he would vanish 
  • On LinkedIn, he admits to being ‘obsessed with the written word’  
  • He faces 20 years behind bars for aggravated identity theft and wire fraud  

A Simon and Schuster employee has pleaded not guilty to stealing unpublished book manuscripts by authors including Margaret Atwood and had bail set at $300,000. 

Italian citizen Filippo Bernardini, 29, entered the plea in Manhattan federal court against the wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges lodged against him after his Wednesday arrest when he flew into the U.S..

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Nessim asked that he be held until trial as a flight risk, but Judge Lewis J Liman set bail at $300,000 and said he could be released once electronic monitoring was established.

Bernardini’s lawyer, Hannah McCrea, successfully argued for bail, saying her client had never been arrested before.

‘He takes this very seriously and has every intention to fight this case,’ she said.

McCrea said Bernardini had found the experience ‘very humbling.’

Filippo Bernardini, 29, was taken into custody at JFK airport in New York City on Wednesday on suspicion of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft

She said he would be staying in Manhattan’s West Village in a small apartment with a female friend until he finds an apartment of his own. McCrea said Bernardini’s father would arrive Saturday.

Bernardini, who works in publishing in London, was charged with using fraudulent, look-alike domains to impersonate individuals involved in the publishing industry to gain surreptitious access to unpublished books from at least August 2016 through July of last year, an indictment said.

The alleged crimes were more mysterious because whoever was seeking the manuscripts apparently wasn’t attempting to sell them or otherwise publicly exploit having them.

The indictment said Bernardini impersonated, defrauded and tried to defraud hundreds of individuals over the years. Works by Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke were among those targeted.

Simon & Schuster UK said in a statement Wednesday that it was ‘shocked and horrified’ by the allegations and that Bernardini had been suspended from his job.

In arguing for detention, Nessim said Bernardini was a ‘tremendous flight risk’ in part because he has no serious ties to the U.S. He said he had operated a sophisticated scheme in which he created 160 lookalike domains to obtain hundreds of manuscripts.

He said a conviction could result in a two-year mandatory prison sentence on the aggravated identity theft charge, which would be served in addition to whatever other term of imprisonment resulted. 

Known as ‘The Spine Collector’, the mystery thief impersonated hundreds of authors, editors and authors to harvest the works, then vanished. 

The thief – known in the literary world as The Spine Collector – stole manuscripts by Margaret Atwood, left, and Ethan Hawke, right. He planned to steal the ideas for his own masterpiece, according to federal prosecutors

Prosecutors say Bernardini was careful not to reveal his identity online. This is his LinkedIn page , where he leaves blank his surname, but boasts about being ‘obsessed’ with the written word 

Prosecutors say Bernardini – who himself admits to being ‘obsessed with the written word’ – aimed to use their ideas to write his own masterpiece but could never pull it off. 

The scheme began in 2016, when he was working in various intern and assistant roles for legal firms and literary companies in Italy.  

Among his victims is Margaret Atwood and actor Ethan Hawke who has written nine books.   

‘We allege Mr. Bernardini used his insider knowledge of the industry to get authors to send him their unpublished books and texts by posing as agents, publishing houses, and literary scouts.  

‘Mr. Bernardini was allegedly trying to steal other people’s literary ideas for himself, but in the end he wasn’t creative enough to get away with it,’ Michael J. Driscoll, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI’s New York Office, said in an announcement on Wednesday.  

Bernardini’s LinkedIn page describes his ‘obsession’ with the written word. Prosecutors say he deliberately did not include his full name in his social media pages or online. 

Bernadini lives in North Finchley, London, with Ben Kaye (above together). 

Bernardini (second from left) is shown with friends and Kaye (far right). He is due in court in Manhattan on Thursday on charges if fraud and aggravated identity theft

‘My obsession for the written word and languages has resulted in me obtaining my bachelors in Chinese language from Università Cattolica (Milan, Italy) and my masters in Publishing from UCL (London, UK). 

‘Combining these two passions has resulted in me pursuing a career within foreign rights management, a critical aspect of publishing. This ensures that books can be read and enjoyed all over the world and in multiple languages. I have also taken commissions to translate books and corporate materials,’ he says. 

It’s unclear why Bernardini was flying to the US, or where he was flying from when he was arrested on Wednesday.  

It is alleged he duped authors and their agents by changing a single letter in his email address or domain name like exchanging the letter ‘m’ for ‘rn’ in Penguin Random House. 

According to the indictment against Bernardini, which was filed in July but only unsealed yesterday, the schemes had been taking place from at least August 2016 through July of last year.

It said Bernardini ‘used fraudulent, look-alike, domains to impersonate individuals involved in the publishing industry to gain surreptitious access to these materials,’ and that over the years he ‘impersonated, defrauded, and attempted to defraud, hundreds of individuals.’ 

Simon & Schuster, in a statement, said it had no knowledge of his alleged involvement in the scam.

‘The safekeeping of our authors’ intellectual property is of primary importance to Simon & Schuster, and for all in the publishing industry, and we are grateful to the FBI for investigating these incidents and bringing charges against the alleged perpetrator,’ the statement added. 

How authors were duped into handing over manuscripts for highly-prized books

For years, the publishing industry has been baffled by an international phishing scheme in which someone with apparent inside knowledge impersonated an editor or an agent and attempted to trick an author or an editor into sending links to unpublished manuscripts. 

This was done by setting up a fake email account and slightly tweaking domain names.

For example, he would allegedly use names like instead of, — putting an ‘rn’ in place of an ‘m.’ 

The indictment said he had registered more than 160 fraudulent internet domains that impersonated publishing professionals and companies.

He faces charges including wire fraud, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, and aggravated identity theft. 

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