A mysterious crime saga that has gripped the publishing world and everyone who read that “Spine Collector” New York Magazine story last August has entered its final chapter. In a shocking twist, the book thief notorious for allegedly stealing unpublished manuscripts via online trickery has been caught. The FBI arrested the suspect on Wednesday when he arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York revealed in a press release.
So who is the so-called spine collector, the menace of book editors’ and agents’ inboxes since 2016, the sly fraudster who amassed hundreds of manuscripts by way of dubious — by which I mean illegal — methods such as phishing and sending emails from fake accounts that impersonated real people but with slightly tweaked domain names like penguinrandornhouse.com? (If you can’t find anything wrong with that URL, then I’m sorry, but you would have been putty in the book thief’s hands.)
Per the Department of Justice release, the master criminal is a 29-year-old publishing-industry insider named Filippo Bernardini. He hails from Italy but lives in London, where he works as a rights coordinator for Simon & Schuster UK, the New York Times reports. According to his LinkedIn page, he previously worked for Bloomsbury Publishing plc and Hay House, and he holds a master’s degree in publishing from University College London and a bachelor’s in English and Mandarin language from the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan. In his “about” section, he notes his “obsession for the written word and languages.”
The biggest question on everyone’s minds: Why? None of the stolen manuscripts made it to the black market or the dark web, and there were no ransom demands, per the Times. Perhaps the knowledge was a leg up when it came to rights coordinating. Or maybe, as the U.S. Attorney’s Office posits, “Bernardini was allegedly trying to steal other people’s literary ideas for himself.” Maybe it was just for the love of the game: one passionate bookworm’s “obsession for the written word” taken a little too far.
The second question on everyone’s minds, at least judging from a lot of the commentary on Twitter: Is Bernardini as hot as his dashing Italian name and rakish misdeeds suggest? I’ll leave you to judge for yourself, dear reader — here is what appears to be Bernardini’s Facebook profile, complete with a clear headshot of the spine collector himself.
Bernardini’s legal fate hangs in the balance, but he’s probably looking at some years behind bars, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. All for the crime of loving books just a little too much (read: wire fraud and aggravated identity theft).