The FBI has arrested a man in connection with the rampant theft of unpublished book manuscripts that has been breeding suspicion in the publishing world for years. Dubbed “the Spine Collector” by New York’s Reeves Wiedeman and Lila Shapiro, he had stolen or made attempts to steal copies of books by Margaret Atwood, Ethan Hawke, Michael J. Fox, Stieg Larsson, and Taffy Brodesser-Akner. According to the New York Times, 29-year-old Filippo Bernardini was arrested and charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft when he arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport Wednesday afternoon. Bernardini is an Italian citizen who claims to be a rights coordinator for Simon & Schuster UK on his Twitter and LinkedIn.
New York’s profile on the crimes, published in August 2021, detailed how the Collector would use phishing emails to trick publishing insiders into sharing manuscripts. The Collector would impersonate someone, down to their font use, in attempts to secure hundreds of manuscripts over the years. When successful, the purloined manuscripts wouldn’t show up on the dark web or be held for ransom. Publishing insiders were baffled by the culprit’s completely obscure motivations. Those in the industry developed pet theories, suspecting colleagues and rivals of being the thief. “This real-life storyline now reads as a cautionary tale,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement, “with the plot twist of Bernardini facing federal criminal charges for his misdeeds.” An arrest isn’t exactly a plot twist in a crime story, more of an expected catharsis. But not every story needs to reinvent the genre.