ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WUSA) - Three employees of Parking Management, Inc. were arrested Saturday on charges of stealing at least $400,000 of visitor parking fees collected at the Smithsonian Institution's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, according to Neil H. MacBride, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Freweyni Mebrahtu, 45, of Sterling, Virginia, Meseret Terefe, 36, of Silver Spring, and Genete Yigzu, 46, of Alexandria, Virginia, were charged in three separate criminal complaints with embezzling and stealing federal monies belonging to the Smithsonian Institution.
Each faces a maximum of ten years in prison, if convicted. The two women, Mebrathu and Yigzu, and one man, Terefe, 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 Saturday.
The Udvar-Hazy Center is the annex of the National Air & Space Museum and is home to the Space Shuttle Discovery and other historic aircraft.
According to an affidavit filed in court, Mebrathu, Terefe, and Yigzu each began stealing parking fees in April 2009, shortly after PMI took over management of the Udvar-Hazy Center's parking lot. They are all booth attendants employed by Washington, D.C.-based PMI, which holds a fixed-rate contract with the Smithsonian to operate the 2,000 vehicle parking lot. Visitors pay a $15 daily fee per vehicle to use the parking lot. The affidavit states that closed-circuit television cameras captured Mebrathu, Terefe, and Yigzu repeatedly unplugging the electronic vehicle counters located in each attendant's booth as a way to manipulate accurate vehicle counts. Terefe was also seen hiding a bundle of cash taken from the entrance fees in a side pocket of his red duffel bag, which he carried away from the parking facility at the end of his shift.
Court documents allege that Mebrathu and Terefe, on some days, each stole more than $4,000 from the Smithsonian. Yigzu is accused of stealing as much as $1,185 on a single day. The documents allege a three-year loss to the Smithsonian of at least $400,000.