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Freweyni Mebrahtu, 46, of Sterling, Va., was sentenced today to 27 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for stealing nearly $900,000 in visitor parking fees when she was employed by Parking Management, Inc., (PMI), the company contracted to manage parking services at the Smithsonian Institution’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.
Neil H. MacBride, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Scott S. Dahl, Inspector General for the Smithsonian Institution; and Valerie Parlave, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement after sentencing by United States District Judge T.S. Ellis, III.
Mebrahtu pled guilty on Nov. 1, 2012, to theft of public money. At sentencing, she was ordered to pay $895,680 in restitution and to forfeit an equal amount in the form of a money judgment in favor of the United States.
Mebrahtu was a full-time employee of PMI, which managed the 2,000-vehicle parking lot at the Udvar-Hazy Center. Over the course of three years, Mebrahtu stole cash entrance fees paid by tens of thousands of museum visitors, taking upwards of $4,000 in a single day by failing to hand out parking ticket stubs to paying customers and by unplugging an electronic vehicle counter that had been installed to measure vehicle traffic. At the end of each shift, Mebrahtu would submit a daily work summary to PMI that repeatedly under-reported the true number of vehicles that had entered the parking lot through her lane. These falsified PMI reports were provided to the Smithsonian. The total loss due to her theft is calculated at $895,680. Based on the $15 entrance fee, it is estimated that Mebrahtu stole from 59,712 visitor vehicles over the course of her crime.
Instead of reporting the thefts, Mebrahtu shared advice with co-workers about how to steal money from the museum. A co-worker, Meseret Terefe, 37, of Silver Spring, Md., was sentenced on Jan. 18, 2013, to 20 months in prison.
The investigation was initiated by the Smithsonian Office of the Inspector General and jointly investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office. Assistant United States Attorney Jasmine Yoon and Special Assistant United States Attorney James McDonald are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.