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The Book Thief: An Italian Man’s Guilty Plea Ends a Caper That Puzzled the Literary World for Years
Filippo Bernardini’s elaborate phishing scam netted 1,000 unpublished manuscripts by prominent authors including Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan / BY Kisha Ferguson / March 24th, 2023
An Italian man who obtained more than 1,000 digital manuscripts of unpublished books says he “wanted to keep them closely to my chest and be one of the fewest to cherish them before anyone else, before they ended up in bookshops.”
Filippo Bernardini, 30, finally explained why he never shared the manuscripts or sold them at a January court hearing in New York, after he was arrested getting off a plane there in 2022 and pleaded guilty to wire fraud and identity theft.
Dubbed the Spine Collector by New York Magazine, the 30-year-old rights coordinator for Simon & Schuster in London used at least a half-dozen languages to impersonate authors, agents, editors and publishers, and set up hundreds of fake web domains and accounts, to request prepublication manuscripts.
Margaret Atwood has said there were “concerted efforts” through phoney emails to get The Testaments before its publication in 2019. Other targets include Stieg Larsson, Sally Rooney, Ethan Hawke and Ian McEwan.
Police say Bernardini’s sophisticated knowledge of the publishing industry helped him to operate undetected. The literary world eventually started to get wind of the mystery thief, but attempts to ensnare him — often employing the same deceptions Bernardini used — were unsuccessful. Hampering the effort was the fact that Bernardini never once leaked or attempted to sell any of the manuscripts he obtained
It wasn’t until industry insiders got the FBI involved that he was finally arrested. Bernardini will be sentenced in Manhattan federal court on April 5.