Former Facebook diversity manager pleads guilty to stealing $4 million from company

Barbara Furlow-Smiles was the former global diversity executive for Facebook.

Katie Daviscourt Seattle WA
A former Facebook diversity program manager entered a guilty plea to defrauding the social media company of over $4 million through a criminal scheme in which she pretended to be conducting business in exchange for kickbacks. 

Barbara Furlow-Smiles, who was the global diversity executive for Facebook, has been accused by the Department of Justice of defrauding the company to fund a lavish lifestyle spanning from Georgia to California, the New York Post reports.

"Motivated by greed, she used her time to orchestrate an elaborate criminal scheme in which fraudulent vendors paid her kickbacks in cash," US Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said. "She even involved relatives, friends, and other associates in her crimes, all to fund a lavish lifestyle through fraud rather than hard and honest work."

The DOJ said that Furlow-Smiles "caused Facebook to pay numerous individuals for goods and services never provided to the company." Those individuals included her friends and relatives who would then funnel kickbacks to Furlow-Smiles.

Furlow-Smiles was able to carry out the scheme because she had access to company credit cards and her role at the company also included approving invoices, according to prosecutors.

The feds claimed that a number of Furlow-Smiles' former interns, her "university tutor," a hair stylist, babysitters, and nannies were among those who were recruited by the ex-employee to take part in the kickback scam. However, it's unclear if these individuals will be charged for their roles in the case.

Additionally, she deceived Facebook into paying over $18,000 to an unidentified preschool and close to $10,000 to an artist who produced specialty portraits—both of whom did not receive kickbacks, the outlet reports.

Prosecutors said that Furlow-Smiles would submit fake expense reports in which she claimed that the individuals were vendors at company events who had either helped with marketing or provided merchandise.

Furlow-Smiles led Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs at Facebook between 2017 to 2021, and was responsible for developing and executing DEI initiatives, operations, and engagement programs, according to the DOJ.

Attorney Buchanan slammed Furlow-Smiles, according to the Post, and said that she "abused a position of a trust as a global diversity executive for Facebook to defraud the company of millions of dollars, ignoring the insidious consequences of undermining the importance of her DEI mission."

Furlow-Smiles, according to the DOJ, defrauded Facebook through a dual-pronged scheme. In addition to submitting fictitious expense reports associated with those transactions, she would pay employees via Venmo and PayPal, which were applications linked to her company credit cards.

The associates, the majority of whom were reportedly unaware that the funds originated from Facebook, would return the funds in cash or by account transfer back to Furlow-Smiles. The DOJ stated that the cash was occasionally concealed in T-shirts or other items prior to delivery to Furlow-Smiles.

Furlow-Smiles was said to have directed Facebook to consider using businesses owned by her friends. In exchange for kickbacks, she would allegedly authorize "fraudulent and inflated invoices" on behalf of the vendors after Facebook had approved the transactions.

The scheduled date for Furlow-Smiles' sentencing is March 19, 2024.
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