Three employees of Parking Management Inc., the company contracted to collect visitor parking fees at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly were arrested Aug. 5 for stealing at least $400,000.
Freweyni Mebrahtu, 45, of Sterling, Meseret Terefe, 36, of Silver Spring, Md. and Genete Yigzu, 46, of Alexandria were charged in three separate criminal complaints with embezzling and stealing federal monies belonging to the Smithsonian Institution. If convicted, each faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.
The three were arrested by agents of the Smithsonian Office of Inspector General and Federal Bureau of Investigation after finishing their shifts at the Udvar-Hazy Center on Aug. 4.
The Udvar-Hazy Center is the annex of the National Air & Space Museum. It’s home to the Space Shuttle Discovery and other historic aircraft.
According to an affidavit, the three, all booth attendants, began stealing parking fees in April 2009, soon after Parking Management Inc. took over management of the center’s 2,000 space parking lot.
Visitors pay a $15 daily fee per vehicle to use the parking lot.
Closed-circuit television cameras captured the three repeatedly unplugging electronic vehicle counters in their booths as a way to manipulate accurate vehicle counts, according to court records.
The museum is visited by hundreds of people each day.
Terefe was also seen hiding a bundle of cash taken from the entrance fees in a side pocket of his duffel bag, which he took with him from the parking facility at the end of his shift.
Mebrathu and Terefe, on some days, allegedly each stole more than $4,000 from the Smithsonian. Yigzu is accused of stealing as much as $1,185 on a single day.
The investigation was initiated by the Smithsonian Office of the Inspector General and jointly investigated by the FBI. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jasmine Yoon and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney James McDonald are prosecuting the case.
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