Parking Lot Attendant Sentenced to 20 Months for Stealing $487,000 in Parking Fees from Smithsonian Museum
|U.S. Attorney’s Office January 18, 2013|
ALEXANDRIA, VA—Meseret Terefe, 37, of Silver Spring, Maryland, was sentenced today to 20 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for stealing approximately $487,000 of visitor parking fees belonging to the Smithsonian Institution’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
Neil H. MacBride, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Scott S. Dahl, Inspector General for the Smithsonian Institution; and Debra Evans Smith, Acting 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.
Terefe was also ordered to pay $487,515 in restitution and forfeit the same amount, including $218,000 in cash recovered following his arrest.
Terefe pleaded guilty on September 28, 2012. According to court documents, Terefe admitted that from March 2009 and continuing through July 2012, he was an employee of Parking Management Inc. (PMI) and worked as a booth attendant at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center parking lot. The Udvar-Hazy Center is the annex location of the Air and Space Museum and is home to the Space Shuttle Discovery and other historic aircraft. These two 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 the car windshield after they paid their entrance fee. These tactics allowed Terefe to underreport the true number of vehicles entering the facility. He and other booth attendants discussed tactics for stealing parking revenues, and Terefe stated that one of his managers approached him and demanded that Terefe pay him half of the stolen proceeds in order to continue his criminal activity.
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 cash proceeds at his residence in Silver Spring and used some of the proceeds to purchase an interest in commercial property in Ethiopia.
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 from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia’s Financial Crimes and Public Corruption Unit and Special Assistant United States Attorney James McDonald prosecuted the case on behalf of the United States.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.justice.gov/usao/vae.