A book thief escapes prison in a plot to swindle famous authors

NEW YORK (AP) — It was the stuff of novels: For years, A A fraud plagued the publishing industry. Impersonating editors and agents for hundreds of literary heists. But manuscripts from high-profile authors were never sold or leaked, making theft even more difficult.

Thursday’s sentencing of Filippo Bernardini in Manhattan federal court ended the saga, and with it finally some answers. then In January, he pleaded guilty to one count of fraud. Bernardini was sentenced to life in prison on a felony charge that carried up to 20 years in prison. Prosecutors had asked for at least one year in prison.

Bernardini, now 30, impersonated hundreds of people during the scheme, which began around August 2016, and obtained more than a thousand manuscripts, including those from high-profile authors such as Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke, authorities said.

In an emotional, four-page letter to Judge Colin McMahon, submitted earlier this month, Bernardini apologized for what he described as his “disgusting, stupid and wrong” actions. It also offered insights into his motivations, which have long eluded victims and observers, even after his plea.

He described a deep love of books that stemmed from childhood and led him to pursue a career in publishing in London. While she landed an internship at a literary agency there, she wrote that she has since struggled to secure full-time work in the industry.

“In recruiting, I’ve seen manuscripts shared between editors, agents and literary scouts or even people outside the industry. So I thought: Why can’t I read these manuscripts? he said.

He faked the e-mail of someone he knew. mailing address and mimicked the tone of former colleagues and asked for a manuscript that had not yet been published. The success of this deception turned the search for illegally purchased books into an “obsessive, compulsive behavior.”

“Every time an author sent me a manuscript, I felt like I was still part of the industry. At that time, I did not think about the harm I would cause,” he added. “I never wanted and never distributed these manuscripts. I wanted to keep them close to my chest and be one of the few to appreciate them before anyone else before they hit bookstores.

In an effort to avoid prison, Bernardini’s attorneys also presented the judge with more than a dozen letters from his friends and family. In a kind of novel irony, among them was a letter from the victim – the writer Jesse Ball, author of “The Third Deafness”, “Curfew” and “The Diver’s Game”.

Bernardini impersonated Ball’s editor to convince the writer to send some unpublished manuscripts, Ball said in his letter pleading for leniency. Criticizing the state of the industry as “more and more corporate and cookie-cutter” and referring to crime as a “caper” and “a trivial thing, a meaningless thing”, Ball argued that “we should be grateful when the human thing comes into the picture: when the publishing industry becomes disposable Something worth writing about.”

“Once a man was deeply interested in something – what does it matter that he was an intermediary? You can’t imagine the soul-crushing tedium of publishing the correspondence,” Ball wrote, adding that he was not harmed by the theft except for some confusion. “I’m thankful that there’s still room in the world for something awkward to happen every now and then.

In weighing the arguments of the prosecution and defense, McMahon pushed back against the idea of ​​a victimless crime. New York’s Vulture Magazine — the so-called “Spine Collector” — reports that “he was particularly moved by a letter from a literary scout” accusing Bernardini of crimes. Vulture also reported that McMahon expressed sympathy for Bernardini in light of her new diagnosis of autism, but said that does not justify the threat. But he concluded that jail time would not help the victim.

As part of the guilty plea, Bernardini agreed to pay $88,000 in restitution, which will be paid to Penguin Random House, according to court documents.

“The cruel irony is that every time I open the book,” Bernardini wrote of his simultaneous passion, “I am reminded of my wrongdoings and what they led me to.”

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, copied or redistributed.

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