- Former Facebook global diversity strategist, Barbara Furlow-Smiles, has pled guilty to stealing over $4 million from the company through a fraudulent scheme involving fake vendors, false charges, and cash kickbacks.
- Furlow-Smiles led Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs at Facebook from January 2017 to September 2021, during which she used her position to defraud the company.
- She used her access to company credit cards and approval authority over invoices to pay friends, relatives, and others for nonexistent goods and services, hiding these transactions with fraudulent expense reports.
Barbara Furlow-Smiles, a 38-year-old former Facebook global diversity strategist, has pled guilty to wire fraud, confessing to stealing more than $4 million from the company.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta revealed that Furlow-Smiles executed an “elaborate scheme involving fraudulent vendors, fictitious charges, and cash kickbacks.”
From January 2017 to September 2021, Furlow-Smiles led Facebook’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs. As the lead strategist and global head of employee resource groups and diversity engagement, she was tasked with developing and executing DEI initiatives, operations, and engagement programs. Prosecutors pointed out that she used her position to “cheat and defraud the company.”
Furlow-Smiles had access to company credit cards and was able to approve invoices. She linked her Facebook credit cards to PayPal, Venmo, and Cash App accounts, and used these accounts to pay friends, relatives, and others for goods and services that were never delivered to Facebook.
To cover up these charges, Furlow-Smiles submitted fraudulent expense reports, falsely claiming that her friends had performed work for Facebook, such as providing swag or marketing. Those involved in the scheme then paid kickbacks to Furlow-Smiles, sometimes through accounts in her husband’s and other people’s names. The kickbacks were sometimes paid in cash in person, through the mail, or even hidden in a t-shirt.
Furlow-Smiles also manipulated Facebook into hiring vendors operated by her friends. She approved fraudulent and inflated invoices to pay these vendors, who then paid her kickbacks. The people involved in the scheme ranged from friends, relatives, former interns from a prior job, nannies and babysitters, to a hair stylist, and her university tutor.
The stolen funds were used to cover various personal expenses, including $10,000 to an artist for specialty portraits and over $18,000 for preschool tuition. Prosecutors stated that Furlow-Smiles used the stolen money to “live a luxury lifestyle in California and Georgia.”
Her sentencing is set for March 19. It remains unclear whether any of the other people involved in the scheme will face charges. Prosecutors noted that most of the people were not aware that the money was coming from Facebook.
Meta, Facebook’s parent company, cooperated with the investigation, which is being conducted by the FBI. U.S. Attorney Ryan Buchanan criticized Furlow-Smiles for abusing her position of trust to defraud the company of millions of dollars.
He stated, “Motivated by greed, she used her time to orchestrate an elaborate criminal scheme in which fraudulent vendors paid her kickbacks in cash. 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.”
Clear Thoughts (op-ed)
Barbara Furlow-Smiles’ case exposes more than just a multi-million dollar theft.
It unveils a rot within the corporate culture of companies like Facebook, which prides itself on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives but fails to ensure transparency and accountability.
When a leader of DEI programs can defraud the company for years, it raises questions about the company’s internal controls.
Moreover, it reflects poorly on Facebook’s parent company, Meta, which didn’t detect this until millions had been siphoned off.
This episode should be a wake-up call to all companies: DEI initiatives are important, but they should never come at the expense of integrity and accountability.
This isn’t about one bad apple, but rather a symptom of a larger problem within corporate culture.
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