By Mary Pat Flaherty, Washington Post:
The pair of parking lot attendants at the Smithsonian Institution’s air and space center in Chantilly were very patient. And for a while, anyway, their patience paid off.
Car by car, truck by truck, SUV by SUV — as thousands of drivers handed over the $15 parking fee for the lot at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the booth attendants pocketed it. One of them hauled off wads of cash in a red duffel bag.
To mask their thefts, they doctored the daily work sheets and unplugged the machine that counted a car every time the gate was raised and lowered.
Fifteen dollars here and $15 there added up very quickly. Since 2009, the two attendants stole almost $1.4 million in parking fees, court records show.
The full scope of the theft became known Friday at the sentencing of Freweyni Mebrahtu, 46, of Sterling, who admitted stealing $900,000. That’s on top of the nearly $487,000 theft previously disclosed during the January sentencing of her colleague, Meseret Terefe, 37, of Silver Spring.
Mebrahtu was sentenced to 27 months in prison Friday and Meseret received a 20-month term in a scheme as simplistic in its execution as it is remarkable for its yield.
The losses were about 10 percent of the total gross parking revenue for the museum in a little more than three years, according to Smithsonian officials.
Terefe stuffed the cash into his duffel bag, and then he’d toss the bag into his trunk at the end of a shift. He had $218,000 in his apartment when he was arrested last summer. He had already spent some of the rest to buy a condominium in Addis Ababa, his case files show.
Mebrahtu stole nearly $900,000 and used it to pay for her children’s college, a daughter’s surgery, cash gifts to relatives, shipments of medications and clothing to families and friends overseas and donations to mosques, according to statements Friday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
She consistently skimmed about a third of the fees paid at her booth and as much as $4,000 a day, court files show — or the money from an estimated 59,712 visitor vehicles.