Many of us who love to visit the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Air and Space annex in Chantilly often complain about the high $15 parking fee required of visitors (who have no choice but to park at the site. Now, it appears that more than $1.5 million was skimmed off by the booth personnel working for PMI Corporation. Freweyni Mebrahtu, 46, was sentenced to two years and three months in prison for her part in the conspiracy last week. Notably, Mebrahtu insisted that she never stole during the Muslim holy days of Ramadan. It appears that she considered that to be proof of being a moral person.
In her sentencing hearing, Mebrahtu admitted to stealing over $895,000 over three years, but said that she did so at the urging of her supervisors with parking contractor PMI. She said that her supervisors demanded two-thirds of the money Mebrahtu took in.
A second employee, Meseret Terefe was sentenced to 20 months in prison after for stealing $487,000 in parking fees and a third employee died awaiting trial. The third employee is believed to have stolen $120,000 during her tenure.
The employees would unplug the machines that counted the vehicles to skim the fees for almost 40 percent of the cars coming to the museum. That is an amazing degree of fraud and it is hard to believe that supervisors at PMI were not aware of the discrepancy. The best case for PMI is to insist that it is grossly incompetent and negligent. The company has refused to respond to media inquiries, apparently believing that it has not obligation to answer any questions from the public as a government contractor.
What is astonishing is that PMI continues to run the parking at the museum. Indeed, Smithsonian has said that it has not decided whether to award PMI another contract when its current contract expires in April. It appears that missing the revenue for 40 percent of the cars is not viewed as, in itself, grounds for non-renewal — let alone early termination — in a government contract.