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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Sarah Shaffi

Book fraudster Filippo Bernardini spared jail

The US attorney’s office, New York.
The US attorney’s office, New York. Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

The man who stole more than 1,000 manuscripts so he could be “one of the fewest to cherish them before anyone else” will not be jailed.

Filippo Bernardini, who worked as a rights coordinator, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in New York in January.

He was yesterday sentenced by judge Colleen McMahon to time served, meaning he will not be imprisoned, according to the Bookseller. He has agreed to pay $88,000 (£72,700) to Penguin Random House to cover the legal and expert fees the company paid as a result of his scheme.

Bernardini has also been sentenced to three years of supervised release, and will be deported from the US to the UK or Italy, where he grew up.

The former publishing employee, who worked for Simon & Schuster in the UK – the company has not been implicated in any of Bernardini’s crimes – had said in court documents that he had a “burning desire” to feel like he was a publishing professional. He added that he had no desire to leak the manuscripts he acquired.

After seeing scripts being shared among colleagues, he set up a spoof email address and managed to obtain a manuscript.

“When that request was successful, from that moment on, this behaviour became an obsession, a compulsive behaviour,” he wrote in papers submitted to the court.

During the scheme, in which he impersonated agents and publishers over email, Bernardini targeted manuscripts of books by Margaret Atwood, Sally Rooney and Ian McEwan, among others.

Bernardini was arrested in New York in January 2022 by the FBI, as he landed at John F Kennedy airport.

Bernardini wrote in court papers that he knew how “egregious, stupid and wrong my actions were” and that he would for ever be associated with his crime.

Previously, his lawyer Jennifer Brown wrote in a sentencing submission that Bernardini grew up as a lonely, bullied, gay child in a conservative part of Italy and was comforted by books.

She argued that he had “suffered professional and reputational ruin” because of his actions, and that being “effectively banned from the publishing industry” was “particularly painful” for him because of “his desire to feel like an industry insider”.

• The subheading and text of this article were amended on 27 March 2023. The work of Margaret Atwood was targeted by Bernardini, but was not “obtained” by him as an earlier version said.

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