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Booth attendants charged in Smithsonian parking fee thefts

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
updated 10:58 AM EDT, Wed August 8, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • At least $400,00 had been stolen during a three-year period, prosecutors said
  • Attendants were caught on video unplugging electronic vehicle counters
  • The annex houses a space shuttle and other historic aircraft

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Three booth attendants have been charged in connection with thefts at the parking garage of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum annex.

The three attendants were arrested by the FBI and Smithsonian security agents Saturday as their shifts ended.

The U.S Attorney's office said at least $400,000 had been stolen over three years. Federal prosecutors said closed circuit television cameras showed parking attendants repeatedly unplugging electronic vehicle counters, which allowed as much as $4,000 to be stolen in a day. One parking attendant is seen stuffing wads of cash into a duffel bag, officials said.

The parking garage at the Smithsonian annex, known as the Udvar-Hazy Center, charges drivers $15 daily, with most of the proceeds intended to go to the museum. The annex, located near Dulles Airport, is home to the space shuttle Discovery and a large display of other historic aircraft.

Those arrested were Freweyni Mebrathu, 45, of Sterling, Virginia; Genete Yigzu, 46, of Alexandria, Virginia; and Meseret Terefe, 36, of Silver Spring, Maryland. All three were employees of Parking Management Inc.

The U.S. Attorney's office said the three are charged with embezzling and stealing federal monies belonging to the Smithsonian. Each faces up to ten years in prison.

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