ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WUSA) -- A woman who worked as a parking lot attendant for the Smithsonian Institution's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. has pleaded guilty to stealing at least $400,000 in parking fees.
Forty-five-year-old Freweyni Mebrahtu pleaded guilty on Thursday, says the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Her co-worker, 36-year-old Meseret Terefe of Silver Spring, Md., pleaded guilty to stealing on Sept. 28. Both worked for Parking Management, Inc, which was under contract with the Smithsonian.
According to the statement of facts with her plea agreement, Mebrahtu worked as a booth attendant from March 2009 through July 2012 at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center parking lot. The Udvar-Hazy Center is the annex facility of the National Air and Space Museum.
Mebrahtu admitted that since at least October 2009, she has stolen the $15 entrance fee from thousands of museum visitors. There were two ways she would steal: 1) reaching under the counter to unplug the electronic vehicle counter which was installed. 2) after a visitor paid the entrance fee, she wouldn't give the customer a serialized parking ticket to put in windshield as proof of purchase.
With these actions, Mebrahtu was able to keep the entrance fees from vehicles she had not reported as entering the parking lot.
Mebrahtu also admitted that she talked with other attendants about ways to steal parking fees and that she gave some of her stolen money to the location manager at the lot.
Authorities say Mebrahtu stole thousands of dollars each week adding up to a three-year loss to the Smithsonian of at least $400,000. She was arrested on Aug. 4.
Mebrahtu faces up to a decade in prison when she is sentenced on Jan. 18, 2013.