Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Meseret Terefe arrested for stealing $400,000 to Enter Plea Agreement Friday

Silver Spring resident was one of three arrested in August for stealing $400,000 from Air & Space parking lot fees.
One of the three parking lot attendants at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum were arrested for reportedly stealing $400,000 in parking fees is scheduled to enter a plea agreement to the charges this week.

Former parking lot attendant Meseret Terefe is scheduled to appear before Judge Thomas S. Ellis III Friday morning in federal court in Alexandria to enter a plea in United States vs. Meseret Terefe.

Terefe, 36, of Silver Spring, MD, was one of three people arrested in early August accused of stealing at least $400,000 in visitor parking fees collected at the Smithsonian Institution’s Steve F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly.

This is the annex of the National Air & Space Museum and home to the Space Shuttle Discovery and other historic aircraft.

The others arrested were Freweyni Mebrahtu, 45, of Sterling and Genete Yigzu, 46, of Alexandria. All three were charged in three separate criminal complaints with embezzling and stealing federal monies belonging to the Smithsonian Institution.

Each individual faces a maximum of 10 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 Aug. 4.

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, according to a news release from the Department of Justice.

The individuals charged were 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 relates that closed-circuit TV cameras captured Mebrathu, Terefe, and Yigzu repeatedly unplugging electronic vehicle counters located in each attendant’s booth as a way to manipulate accurate vehicle counts.

Terefe was also observed 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.