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FBI arrest Italian publishing exec for manuscript theft scam
A mystery that has shaken the literary world for years -- the theft of hundreds of unpublished manuscripts from distinguished authors -- may finally be about to be solved.
Published: 8 January 2022 16:39 CET
Margaret Atwood's last work, "The Testaments" was targeted by the scam artist. Photo: Jeremy Chan / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP
In New York this week, the FBI arrested Filippo Bernardini, a 29-year-old Italian employee of major publisher Simon & Schuster. He is accused of impersonating literary agents and publishers over email to steal unpublished works from writers and their representatives.
The alleged scam had been known in literary circles for around five years with Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan and Sally Rooney among the novelists reportedly targeted.
Bernardini was arraigned in court in Manhattan on Thursday after being arrested by agents at JFK airport the day before. He has been charged with committing wire fraud and identity theft between 2016 and 2021, crimes punishable by 22 years in prison.
“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 prosecutor Damian Williams.
“This real-life storyline now reads as a cautionary tale, with the plot twist of Bernardini facing federal criminal charges for his misdeeds,” he added in a statement.
Bernardini pleaded not guilty and was released under “home detention” with a $300,000 bond secured on his home, a spokesperson for the Southern District of New York told AFP.
Bernardini worked in London for Simon & Schuster, which said in a statement it was “shocked and horrified to learn of the allegations.”
“The employee has been suspended pending further information on the case,” the publisher said in a statement. “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,” it added.
Unknown motive Prosecutors say the suspect’s modus operandi was well established. He would impersonate real people in the world of publishing by sending emails from fake accounts. The addresses would be made to resemble the domain names of legitimate publishers but with a letter changed here and there.
The indictment accuses him of registering more than 160 fraudulent domains.
What baffled alleged victims was that the thefts were never followed by demands for money, nor did the works ever seem to appear online or on the dark web.
In 2019, Atwood’s agent revealed that the manuscript for “The Testaments” had been targeted.
Last year, New York Magazine reported that the Swedish editors of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” series had been approached by a purported colleague in Italy who requested an advance copy so that it could be translated before release.
A New York Times investigation at the end of 2020 found that “Normal People” author Rooney, “Atonement” author McEwan, and actor Ethan Hawke had also been targeted.
Little is known about Bernardini. Screenshots from a LinkedIn profile that was inaccessible Friday described him as a “rights coordinator” at Simon & Schuster.
The biography said he obtained a bachelors in Chinese Language in Milan and a masters in publishing from UCL in London owing to his “obsession for the written word and languages.”
One element of the story prosecutors hope to find out is what the accused’s motivations might have been as the indictment does not mention whether he made any financial profit from the alleged thefts.
Eurovision in Italy: Six things to expect from the 2022 contest
As Italy prepares to host the Grand Final of Eurovision 2022 this weekend, here's our quick guide to making sense of it all.
Published: 10 May 2022 15:58 CEST Updated: 13 May 2022 09:33 CEST
The northern Italian city of Turin is hosting the glitzy event in 2022 thanks to the leather-clad, eyeliner-wearing Italian rock band Måneskin, who claimed the title in Rotterdam last year with their track ‘Zitti e Buoni’.
As the acts move through the semi-final stages this week before the Grand Final on Saturday, here’s what you can expect from the 66th edition of Eurovision. Get your score cards, flags and sequins at the ready.
High expectations for Italy’s entry
After last year’s win, Italy’s act for 2022, Mahmood and BLANCO, have a lot to live up to. Not just because of the country’s Eurovision victory, and not even because Italy has been on a winning streak – but because the duo have their own hype to follow.
Individually, they boast their own successes too. Mahmood broke into the spotlight on X Factor Italia, as did the reigning champions Måneskin. He’s got a stream of singles and two albums under his belt and has already experienced Eurovision accolade, coming second in 2019 with his hit ‘Soldi‘.
BLANCO is a singer/rapper from the northern Italian city, Brescia, with chart-toppers in the form of a single and an album.
You can listen to the track here, with the lyrics in Italian and English translation underneath.
Italy doesn’t have to compete to get into the final
Italy can participate in the final without needing to qualify, as it is one of the five countries that have a right to enter, along with Spain, Germany, France and the UK.
The other countries must first compete in the semi-finals, which begin on Tuesday, May 10th and the second lot are due to compete on Thursday, May 12th.
This year’s theme
As you may expect, Italy is injecting a certain artistic (higher brow?) flair into this year’s theme.
The organiser, Italian public broadcaster Rai, described the theme in Turin as “a visual representation of The Sound of Beauty”.
“In order to represent sound and its visual properties, the design is based on the symmetrical structure and patterns of cymatics – the study of sound wave phenomena,” it added.
Expect lots of beautiful, symmetrical sound waves, akin to the shape of looping Italian gardens.
Initial snaps from rehearsals show the event promises to have the expected fireworks and pomp too, even so.
Hats off to Italy for exerting some cultural influence, but this is Eurovision, after all. It’s an unspoken law that feathers, sparkles, tassels and questionable taste are a founding principle of the event – and this year will surely be no different.
You can join in by voting
Once upon a time, voting at home was almost a parlour game played among family and friends with pencils and notebooks.
Then it evolved into televoting, sending texts, and now for 2022, you can play a part in choosing the winning act by voting through Eurovision’s Official Eurovision Song Contest app.
Details of how and when to vote will be shared during the shows.
This would be Italy’s fourth Eurovision win
Should the rapping duo give everyone the chills as they hope to and they bag the title, it would mark the fourth time Italy has won Eurovision.
The country previously won the contest in 1964 with Non Ho L’età, receiving nearly three times as many votes as the runner-up, then in 1990, when Toto Cutugno won with the song Insieme:1992 and last year with Måneskin’s triumph.
Italy’s Maneskin performs during the final of the 65th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2021, at the Ahoy convention centre in Rotterdam, on May 22, 2021. (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)
Italy is one of the 14 founding participants of the Eurovision Song Contest – it could even be one of the reasons the world tunes in to watch the sometimes controversial, often hilarious music competition, as it’s said to be modelled on Italy’s Sanremo music festival.
You can watch on TV or online
If you’re in Italy, you can catch the spectacle on host broadcaster’s network Rai or get tickets at the PalaOlimpico venue in Turin, Piedmont.
For a full list of which channel to tune into for your country, or for online streaming, check here.