Italian Denies Literary Wire Fraud

An Italian citizen, employed in London’s publishing industry, has refuted charges that he fraudulently obtained unpublished manuscripts by impersonating other people online.

The United States Department of Justice unsealed an indictment on January 5 accusing 29-year-old Filippo Bernardini of using digital deception to amass the unpublished manuscripts of hundreds of books. 

“Filippo Bernardini allegedly impersonated publishing industry individuals in order to have authors, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, send him prepublication manuscripts for his own benefit,” said US attorney Damian Williams.

It is alleged that from at least August 2016 through July 2021, Bernardini created fake email accounts which he used to impersonate genuine literary talent agencies, publishing houses and literary scouts.

“Bernardini created these accounts by registering more than 160 internet domains that were crafted to be confusingly similar to the real entities that they were impersonating, including only minor typographical errors that would be difficult for the average recipient to identity during a cursory review,” said the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York in a statement.

One tactic allegedly employed by Bernardini was to replace the letter’ m’ used in a genuine domain name with the lower-case letters’ r’ and ‘n’ when registering a look-alike domain.

Reportedly among the list of individuals allegedly defrauded by Bernardini are American actor, director and screenwriter Ethan Hawke, and renowned author of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood.

Bernardini is further accused of phishing two employees of a New York City-based literary scouting company to gain access to a database maintained by that company. 

The defendant was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 5. He was charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. 

Following the allegations, Bernardini was suspended from his position at the UK arm of the American publishing company and ViacomCBS subsidiary, Simon & Schuster

In a statement released Wednesday, Simon & Schuster said it was “shocked and horrified” by Bernardini’s alleged crimes. 

On Thursday, Bernardini entered a plea of not guilty before Manhattan federal court. Judge Lewis Liman set bail at $300,000 and said Bernardini could be released once he had been placed under electronic monitoring.

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