Con artist pleads guilty in phishing plot that duped authors

Jan 5, 2023, 11:39 PM | Updated: Jan 6, 2023, 2:57 pm
FILE - Canadian author Margaret Atwood holds a copy of her book "The Testaments," during a news con...

FILE - Canadian author Margaret Atwood holds a copy of her book "The Testaments," during a news conference on Sept. 10, 2019, in London. A years-long saga that ensnared the publishing world culminated in a New York courtroom Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, when a con artist pleaded guilty to a plot that defrauded scores of authors, including Atwood, by duping them into handing over hundreds of unpublished manuscripts. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

(AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — A yearslong saga that ensnared the publishing world culminated in a New York courtroom Friday when a con artist pleaded guilty to a plot that defrauded scores of authors by duping them into handing over hundreds of unpublished manuscripts.

Filippo Bernardini, an Italian citizen who had been working in publishing in London, pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud in connection with a phishing scheme that baffled the book world for years.

The announcement was made by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams, who said Bernardini is set to be sentenced April 5 before before U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon.

“Filippo Bernardini used his insider knowledge of the publishing industry to create a scheme that stole precious works from authors and menaced the publishing industry,” Williams said in a statement.

Authorities say Bernardini, 30, used email accounts to impersonate literary agents and editors to con authors out of their manuscripts.

“Through impersonation and phishing schemes, Bernardini was able to obtain more than a thousand manuscripts fraudulently,” Williams said.

Bernardini, who hasn’t publicly explained his motives, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. As part of his guilty plea, he agreed to pay restitution of $88,000.

Authorities say the scheme began sometime around August of 2016 and continued until last January, when he was arrested.

Bernardini created fake email accounts by registering more than 160 internet domains that, prosecutors said, “were confusingly similar to the real entities that they were impersonating, including only minor typographical errors that would be difficult for the average recipient to identify during a cursory review.”

He impersonated hundreds of people over the course of the scheme, obtaining more than a thousand manuscripts through his deceit.

Works by Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke were among those targeted.

What made the plot more mystifying was that no attempts were apparently made to sell the stolen manuscripts.

In the indictment, Bernardini was described as working in London for a “major, international, US-based publishing house.” A LinkedIn profile for a Filippo B. said he worked for Simon & Schuster, which had said that it was “shocked and horrified” by the fraud.

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Con artist pleads guilty in phishing plot that duped authors