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U.S. arrests Italian man over scheme to steal unpublished books

Jan. 6 (UPI) -- Authorities in New York have arrested an Italian citizen accused of impersonating publishing industry professionals in order to steal hundreds of unpublished manuscripts including novels by well-known authors.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York announced in a press release that Filippo Bernardini, 29, of London, England, was arrested Wednesday afternoon at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and he is expected to make his first court appearance Thursday.

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He has been charged with a slew of offenses in connection to the multiyear scheme, including wire fraud that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years' imprisonment.

"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," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said. "This real-life storyline now reads as a cautionary tale, with the plot twist of Bernardini facing criminal charges for his misdeeds."

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According to the indictment, the scheme began in August of 2016 and lasted until at least this past July.

Prosecutors said Bernardini registered more than 160 fraudulent Internet domains impersonating real publishing entities and professionals, including talent agencies, publishing houses, literary scouts and others, which he used to target authors and editors to solicit the yet-to-be-published manuscripts.

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The indictment states that the accused would craft the domains to been almost identical to the real entities but would often contain small typographical errors, such as replacing a lower case letter 'm' with lower case letters 'r' and 'n' without a space between them.

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"Over the course of this scheme, Bernardini impersonated hundreds of distinct people and engaged in hundreds of unique efforts to fraudulently obtain electronic copies of manuscripts that he was not entitled to," the attorney's office said.

A spokesman for publishing house Simon & Schuster told The New York Times in a statement that it was "shocked and horrified" by the charges.

"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," the company said.

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