Former Facebook diversity head pleads guilty to stealing millions in kickback scheme, DOJ says

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Facebook’s former diversity program manager has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $4 million from the company through fake business deals in exchange for kickbacks to fund a luxurious lifestyle, federal prosecutors said Tuesday. 

Barbara Furlow-Smiles, 38, served as the lead strategist, global head of employee resource groups and diversity engagement at the social media giant while she orchestrated the scheme, the Justice Department said. From January 2017 through 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.

“Furlow-Smiles used lies and deceit to defraud both vendors and Facebook employees,” said Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Atlanta office. “The FBI works hard to make sure greed like this doesn’t pay off and those who commit fraud are held accountable.”

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Furlow-Smiles committed the fraud by linking PayPal, Venmo, and Cash App accounts to credit cards given to her by Facebook and used those accounts to pay friends, relatives, former interns at a prior job, nannies, babysitters, a hairstylist and others for goods and services that were never provided to the company, a federal complaint states.

It was unclear if her associates were being charged in connection with the fraud. 

After those people received the payments, they kicked back a percentage of the funds to Furlow-Smiles, prosecutors said. The kickbacks were paid in cash and through transfers to accounts in various names, including the husband of Furlow-Smiles, prosecutors allege. 

Some of the kickbacks were allegedly paid in cash sometimes wrapped in T-shirts and other items, the FBI said. She also had Facebook hire vendors that were owned and operated by friends and associates who also paid kickbacks, authorities said. 

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To conceal the fraud, Furlow-Smiles submitted false expense reports claiming the individuals performed work on Facebook programs and events, the DOJ said. After they were hired, Furlow-Smiles allegedly approved fake and inflated invoices. She received a portion of the money paid to the vendors under the table. 

Furlow-Smiles also misled Facebook into paying money to entities who didn’t provide kickbacks, including nearly $10,000 to an artist who created specialty portraits and more than $18,000 to a preschool, the complaint said. 

“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,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said. 

Furlow-Smiles used the illicit funds to fund a luxury lifestyle in California and Georgia, prosecutors said. 

FOX Business has reached out to Facebook’s parent company, Meta, and the Justice Department. Furlow-Smiles is scheduled to be sentenced on March 19, 2024.

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