Con Artist Lives Real-Life Novel Plaguing the Publishing Industry
A con artist spent years impersonating agents and editors, pulling off hundreds of heists in the literary world, but he didn’t do anything with the manuscripts, which was perhaps the most confusing part of this crime.
Filippo Bernardini was arrested and charged in Manhattan federal court with years of fraud but managed to get away with pleading to just one count of wire fraud and getting credit for time served. The maximum penalty could have been up to 20 years in prison for this felony, and prosecutors asked for a sentence of a year, minimum.
Starting in 2016, Bernardini impersonated hundreds of people in the publishing and editing industries, but it wasn’t for financial gain. His letter of apology to the courts explained what he claims were his intentions, and what he calls “egregious, stupid, and wrong” actions that took place.
In his letter, he told of a love of books that led him to pursue publishing in London as a career. However, although he was able to get an internship, he struggled to find full-time employment within the industry. During his time, he did glean something important that led him to his crimes, though:
“I saw manuscripts being shared between editors, agents […] with individuals outside the industry. So, I wondered, why can I not also get to read these manuscripts?”
He said that he started small, spoofing an email address from someone that he knew and mimicking the tone of former colleagues’, getting his hands on the first manuscript before it was published that started the whole thing.
He described his quest as a compulsive behavior that became a bit obsessive. He wanted to feel like the pros, reading new books before anyone else and feeling like he was part of the industry. He didn’t think about any harm caused, and never had intentions to leak manuscripts or attempt to use them for other ill-gotten gains.
He wanted to be among the first to appreciate them, he claimed, and that was all.
Pleading His Case
Among his own letter and the letters from family, friends, and supporters, there was one more letter that probably got the court’s attention more than the rest. This was from author and victim Jesse Ball, who actually pushed for leniency on Bernardini’s behalf, calling it a “caper” and arguing that this man was fueled by a passion that the industry today lacks.
The publishing industry gets a lot of flack for its modern, corporate, cookie-cutter approach to things, but it does get a lot done for authors and editors alike. However, where there is no passion and creativity, there is no room for people like Bernardini, he felt, which is why he tried to make his own way.
The courts did bring light to some correspondence that included threats but said a prison sentence wouldn’t be effective in this case. He is being deported back to the UK and will be required to pay $88,000 in restitution, all to Penguin Random House publishing company.
And for Bernardini, the punishment for his crime is a lifetime reminder. Every time he opens a book, he’s taken back to his scheme and all the problems that it created, and all because he wanted to feel special. Although some claim the crime was victimless, several scouts and publishers were left holding the bag, which is why the judge wanted to ensure that some kind of punishment was enforced.
However, because he was willing to plead and he had so much support, the court was able to be a bit more lenient in his sentencing. But still, the story proves that crime is crime, no matter the intention behind it.