Mara faces inquiry over 2008 data

The Office of Campaign Finance said Friday that an investigation has been launched into whether a D.C. Council candidate benefited four years ago from campaign finance data from his 2008 council race.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Patrick Mara, a GOP candidate for an at-large council seat, had signed a contract with a conservative think tank in 2009 to send fundraising letters for the group on his letterhead to his donors. Mara was to be paid a consulting fee of $1,500 to $2,500 a month or 10 percent of the money he raised if that amount was greater. Elections officials say the agreement could violate election laws, but Mara say the contract was an informal arrangement that he made to raise money from his friends.

Wesley Williams, an OCF spokesman, said the agency has launched an “internal inquiry” and is contacting Mara “to find out some more information.” Mara supporters said the investigation is politically motivated and questioned why it leaked to the news media four days before Tuesday’s election.

— Tim Craig

Survey shows drop in blue crabs in bay

The number of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay has dropped steeply, according to an annual survey released Friday, and Maryland officials said they will work with the crabbing industry to reduce bushel limits by about 10 percent for female crabs this year.

On a positive note, the number of spawning-age females increased by 52 percent after troubling numbers last year. The 2013 winter dredge survey, which samples about 1,500 sites across the bay, found the total number of blue crabs fell from 765 million to 300 million. The number of juvenile crabs fell from 581 million to 111 million.

“The bottom-line message is that the population overall — the number of crabs that are in Chesapeake Bay upon which the 2013 fisheries will work — is quite a bit lower than it was,” said Lynn Fegley, deputy director of fisheries at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The results are particularly disappointing because last year’s survey noted the highest crab reproduction in the 24 years of the survey. Usually with a population increase like that, the harvest would be expected to increase.

— Associated Press

Man is convicted of two home invasions

A man faces a possible life sentence after being convicted of two home invasions, including one in which a woman was sexually assaulted.

A Montgomery County jury convicted 34-year-old Kevin Ray late Thursday of 14 counts, including burglary, first-degree sex offense, first-degree assault, false imprisonment and handgun offenses.

Authorities say Ray invaded two homes on back-to-back days in January 2011. The first was in Silver Spring, and the second was in Bethesda. In the second home invasion, authorities say Ray forced a woman to perform a sex act.

He was arrested in North Carolina after police obtained a photo of him using a victim’s credit card.

State’s Attorney John McCarthy says prosecutors anticipate Ray receiving a long sentence. He will be sentenced on June 20.

— Associated Press

Plea in Smithsonian parking lot theft

A parking lot manager for the Smithsonian’s air and space museum in Chantilly pleaded guilty Friday to his role in stealing about $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, which is 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