Conwoman’s appeal dismissed

Samantha Azzopardi pleaded guilty to four charges of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception, for the education, counselling, food, accommodation and electronics she was given while posing as a schoolgirl.
Samantha Azzopardi pleaded guilty to four charges of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception, for the education, counselling, food, accommodation and electronics she was given while posing as a schoolgirl.

​Harper Hart seemed strange from the moment she enrolled at a high school in Sydney's inner west in late 2016.

Though she said she was 13, most teachers at the Good Shepherd School thought Harper looked at least a few years older.

When they asked for identification, she said she was under the US Government's Witness Protection Program, and was a victim of sexual assault and human trafficking.

She produced a birth certificate from San Francisco, California, which named Burwood couple Julian and Rebekah Hart as her biological parents.

There was just one problem: the Harts, Harper's guardians, had told the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) that they first met Harper when she was already a teenager.

Overwhelmed by suspicion, FACS contacted police, and detectives began to methodically unravel Harper's story in early 2017.

She proved elusive, turning her back to CCTV cameras when she saw them and refusing to be in a school photo.

In May 2017, investigators realised why. They were told about Samantha Lyndell Azzopardi, 29, a serial conwoman with a history of posing as a vulnerable teenager around Australia and around the world.

Police took a photo of Azzopardi from the internet and showed it to teachers and case workers, who agreed Hart and Azzopardi were identical.

Forensic technicians tested one of the assignments Hart had handed in, finding it to be covered in the fingerprints of Azzopardi.

The 29-year-old from Campbelltown – who was also a former Mount Annan High School student – was arrested and charged. She pleaded guilty to four charges of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception, for the education, counselling, food, accommodation and electronics she was given while posing as Harper.

At a court in Hornsby in July, she was sentenced to a maximum of one year in jail, to be eligible for parole after six months.

Azzopardi and her bizarre methods are bitterly familiar to police in Ireland and Canada, after police forces in each country wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating her fraudulent claims of being a teenage victim of child trafficking.

In Calgary in 2014, she admitted her lie after 17 days, but her 2013 Dublin ruse was only exposed when police made a public appeal using her photograph and someone recognised her.

Azzopardi gained the confidence to dabble in international deception in Brisbane and Perth, where she first posed as a teenager and attempted to enrol in three high schools.

On September 1, 2010, she was knocked back from Mount St Michael's College in Brisbane's Ashgrove because the school was not accepting applications so late in the year. Seven days later, she tried to enrol at Brisbane State High School, but the deputy principal checked on her reference letter and found it to be fraudulent.

In 2011, as 16-year-old Emily Azzopardi, she befriended a young girl at TAFE and over several months convinced the girl's parents to begin proceedings to adopt her. She was enrolled in Year 11 at Girrawheen Senior High School in February 2012, and attended the school until March when she was taken away by the Major Fraud Squad.

In the NSW District Court on Monday, Azzopardi appealed the 12-month sentence for her latest crime on the grounds it was too severe.

Judge Paul Conlon dismissed the appeal, labelling Azzopardi "a really cunning, calculating fraudster" .

Court documents reveal some of the tactics she used to delay detection, including using a list of more than 70 known aliases and - police suspect - drawing freckles on her face to appear younger.

Wearing a grey dress and a black blazer, her dyed blonde hair knotted intricately on the top of her head, Azzopardi stared at her lap during the proceedings.

"It is disturbing in the extreme that, at 29 years of age, she still attempts to pass herself off as an adolescent," Judge Conlon said.

Azzopardi's solicitor, Phillip Ryan, said his client had "undoubtedly difficult and deep-seated issues" but the motivation for her behaviour is "difficult to see".

A court-appointed psychiatrist said in a report that Azzopardi has a "remarkably unstable sense of identity", with a tendency to disassociate, giving a tentative diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.