NEW YORK (AP) — An Italian citizen charged with stealing numerous unpublished book manuscripts pleaded not guilty Thursday and had bail set at $300,000 despite a prosecutor’s attempt to keep him incarcerated until trial.
Filippo Bernardini, 29, entered the plea in Manhattan federal court to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges lodged against him after his Wednesday arrest as he arrived in the U.S. on a flight.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Nessim asked that he be held until trial as a flight risk, but Judge Lewis J. Liman set bail at $300,000 and said he could be released once electronic monitoring was established.
Bernardini’s lawyer, Hannah McCrea, successfully argued for bail, saying her client had never been arrested before.
“He takes this very seriously and has every intention to fight this case,” she said.
McCrea said Bernardini had found the experience “very humbling.”
She said he would be staying in Manhattan’s West Village in a small apartment with a female friend until he finds an apartment of his own. McCrea said Bernardini’s father would arrive Saturday.
Bernardini, who works in publishing in London, was charged with using fraudulent, look-alike domains to impersonate individuals involved in the publishing industry to gain surreptitious access to unpublished books from at least August 2016 through July of last year, an indictment said.
The alleged crimes were more mysterious because whoever was seeking the manuscripts apparently wasn’t attempting to sell them or otherwise publicly exploit having them.
The indictment said Bernardini impersonated, defrauded and tried to defraud hundreds of individuals over the years. Works by Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke were among those targeted.
Simon & Schuster UK said in a statement Wednesday that it was “shocked and horrified” by the allegations and that Bernardini had been suspended from his job.
In arguing for detention, Nessim said Bernardini was a “tremendous flight risk” in part because he has no serious ties to the U.S. He said he had operated a sophisticated scheme in which he created 160 lookalike domains to obtain hundreds of manuscripts.
He said a conviction could result in a two-year mandatory prison sentence on the aggravated identity theft charge, which would be served in addition to whatever other term of imprisonment resulted.