Three charged with stealing parking fees at Udvar-Hazy lot

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Three parking attendants have been charged with stealing at least $400,000 in parking fees collected at a parking lot for the Smithsonian Institution’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, prosecutors said Monday.

Freweyni Mebrahtu, 45, of Sterling, Va.; Meseret Terefe, 36, of Silver Spring; and Genete Yigzu, 46, of Alexandria, each face embezzlement charges related to the theft of money they collected from drivers paying to use the parking lot. According to affidavits filed in federal court, the three Parking Management Inc. employees unplugged electronic vehicle counters and threw away parking ticket stubs in order to undercount the number of people who paid to park in the 2,000-vehicle lot. They would then pocket the $15 per car parking fees, with Ms. Mebrahtu and Mr. Terefe taking as much as $4,000 in a day, prosecutors said.

The FBI began conducting surveillance on the three parking attendants after someone reported that the employees regularly pilfered the parking lot profits and had been doing so almost they entire time they had been employed by PMI. All three started working as parking attendants in March 2009, and prosecutors said they began stealing the next month.

Mr. Terefe and Ms. Yigzu both worked part time, generally just weekends, at the Udvar-Hazy parking lot. Ms. Mebrathu worked as much as six days a week, according to court documents.

Altogether over a three-year period, prosecutors think they stole at least $400,000. They each face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

All three were arrested Saturday after finishing their shifts at the parking lot.

Mr. Terefe and Ms. Yigzu are scheduled for preliminary hearings Wednesday and have requested public defenders.

Ms. Mebrahtu has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Thursday. A private attorney listed as representing her could not be reached for comment Monday.

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