After he spent a shift collecting fees at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, parking booth attendant Meseret Terefe stuffed a bundle of the cash into a red duffel bag and headed for home one day in June, federal prosecutors said.
The theft was just one of many in an alleged three-year scam that was as lucrative as it was simple. Terefe and two other attendants netted at least $400,000 by unplugging the machines that counted cars at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum annex and taking those visitors’ $15 parking fees, according to federal prosecutors in Virginia.
On some days, Terefe, 36, of Silver Spring, and Freweyni Mebrahtu, 45, of Sterling, took more than $4,000, federal officials said in court papers. The third attendant, Genete Yigzu, 46, of Alexandria, allegedly grabbed as much as $2,000 on a single day.
All three were arrested Saturday after their shifts at the Udvar-Hazy Center and were charged in federal court in Alexandria with embezzling money from the Smithsonian. Each faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted.
“During a time of challenging budgets, the alleged theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Smithsonian, a revered American institution, is extremely troubling,” said Neil H. MacBride, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. (WashingtionPost)