One of three Udvar-Hazy parking attendants accused of stealing $487,000 in fees was sentenced Jan. 18 to nearly two years in prison.
In addition to 20 months in prison, Meseret Terefe, 37, of Silver Spring, Md., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis III to three years of supervised release.
Terefe and two others are accused of stealing visitor parking fees belonging to the Smithsonian Institution’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly.
He was also ordered to pay $457,515 in restitution and forfeit the same amount, including $218,000 in cash recovered following his arrest.
Terefe pleaded guilty Sept. 28, admitting, according to court documents, that from March 2009 through July 2012 he stole the money while working for Parking Management Inc. (PMI), the company contracted to collect parking fees at the museum.
The National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is the annex location of the Air & Space Museum and is home to the Space Shuttle Discovery and other historic aircraft. These Smithsonian sites display the largest collection of aircraft and spacecraft in the world.
PMI began managing the center’s parking lot, which holds approximately 2,000 vehicles, in March 2009.
Terefe admitted that he began stealing parking fees in late 2009 by either repeatedly unplugging the electronic vehicle counters installed in the parking booths or by not handing customers a serialized parking ticket to display in their car windshield.
These tactics allowed Terefe to under-report the true number of vehicles entering the facility. He and other booth attendants discussed tactics for stealing parking revenues, and Terefe said that one of his managers approached him and demanded that Terefe pay him half of the stolen proceeds in order to continue his activity, according to court documents.
Terefe stole between $1,800 and nearly $4,500 during a daily shift working at the Smithsonian, and the three-year loss to the Smithsonian attributable to Terefe is approximately $487,000. Terefe stored a portion of the proceeds at his home in Silver Spring and used some of the proceeds to purchase an interest in commercial property in Ethiopia.
Freweyni Mebrahtu, 45, of Sterling, and Genete Yigzu, 46, of Alexandria, were also charged in the scheme.
Mebrahtu pleaded guilty on Nov. 1.