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Former Facebook and Nike Diversity Manager Sentenced to Prison After Stealing $5 Million Meant for DEI Initiatives

A former Facebook and Nike “diversity manager” has been sentenced to prison after stealing $5 million earmarked for DEI initiatives.

Barbara Furlow-Smiles, 38, of Georgia, pleaded guilty to wire fraud in December for what the Justice Department called an “elaborate scheme involving fraudulent vendors, fictitious paperwork, and cash kickbacks.”

On Monday, Furlow-Smiles was sentenced to five years and three months in prison plus three years of supervised release. She has also been ordered to pay restitution of $4,981,783.58 to Facebook and $121,054.50 to Nike, for a total of $5,102,838.08.

“Furlow-Smiles shamelessly violated her position of trust as a DEI executive at Facebook to steal millions from the company utilizing a scheme involving fraudulent vendors, fake invoices, and cash kickbacks,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan. “After being terminated from Facebook, she brazenly continued the fraud as a DEI leader at Nike, where she stole another six-figure sum from their diversity program. Her prison sentence reflects the consequences of her decision to orchestrate an intricate scheme to defraud two of her employers for personal profit.”

According to a press release from the Justice Department, “Furlow-Smiles served as Lead Strategist, Global Head of Employee Resource Groups and Diversity Engagement at Facebook, Inc., now known as Meta Platforms, Inc., doing business as Meta. From January 2017 to September 2021, she led Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs at Facebook and was responsible for developing and executing DEI initiatives, operations, and engagement programs. In her position, Furlow-Smiles had access to company credit cards. She also had the authority to submit purchase requisitions and approve invoices for authorized vendors of Facebook.”

“Furlow-Smiles used her position at Facebook to cheat and defraud the company. She caused Facebook to pay numerous individuals for goods and services that were never provided and then directed those individuals to kick back the fraudulent proceeds to her, often in cash. Her scheme operated in two ways,” the press release explained.

“First, Furlow-Smiles linked PayPal, Venmo, and Cash App accounts to her Facebook credit cards and used those accounts to pay friends, relatives, and other associates for goods and services that in truth were never provided to Facebook. To conceal the bogus charges, Furlow-Smiles submitted fraudulent expense reports, falsely claiming that her associates or their businesses had performed work on programs and events for Facebook, such as providing swag or marketing services, when in fact they had not done so.”

After receiving the money from Facebook, the individuals would return the majority of it to Furlow-Smiles.

“Second, Furlow-Smiles caused Facebook to onboard several vendors that were owned and operated by friends and associates who paid her kickbacks. Furlow-Smiles approved fraudulent invoices for these vendors. After Facebook paid the invoices, Furlow-Smiles directed the vendors to return a portion of the money they received to her.”

According to the DOJ, Furlow-Smiles stole over $4.9 million from Facebook and over $120,000 from Nike “based on fictitious charges and fraudulent invoices. She used the money to fund a luxury lifestyle in California, Georgia, and Oregon.”

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