Parking lot manager pleads guilty in theft from Smithsonian

A parking lot manager for the Smithsonian’s air and space museum in Chantilly pleaded guilty Friday to his role in stealing approximately $1.4 million in parking fees during a three-year scheme.

The manager, Abeselom Hailemariam, 33, of Alexandria, skimmed as much as half of the cash that attendants stole each day , court records show, and also advised the attendants on when to ease up on the thefts to avoid detection.

Hailemariam is the third person to plead guilty in the case in which attendants pocketed the $15 parking fee paid by at least 92,213 visitors to the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. They masked the crime by unplugging counting mechanisms in their booths and doctoring shift reports about lot activity, court records state.

Hailemariam was arrested in March at Dulles International Airport where he was returning from Ethi­o­pia after five months residing there, court files show. A sealed arrest warrant for him had been issued in late November, according to case files.

Hailemariam faces up to five years in prison at his sentencing set for July 19 on his plea to conspiracy to commit theft of public money, prosecutors said.

Previously, lot attendant Meseret Terefe, 37, of Silver Spring, received a 20-month sentence and Freweyni Mebrahtu, 46, of Sterling, was sentenced to 27 months after convictions for their parts in the thefts.

The federal case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia was investigated by the Smithsonian Office of the Inspector General and the FBI.

Mary Pat Flaherty works on investigative and long-range stories. Her work has won numerous national awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.
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