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Ex-Facebook diversity manager pleads guilty to bilking $4M from company in kickback scheme: feds

A former Facebook diversity program manager pleaded guilty to scamming the social media giant out of more than $4 million through a scheme in which she faked business deals in exchange for kickbacks, the Justice Department said.

Barbara Furlow-Smiles, who served as lead strategist and global head of employee resource groups and diversity engagement at Facebook, used the stolen funds to live an extravagant lifestyle that spanned from California to Georgia, prosecutors said.From approximately January 2017 to September 2021, Furlow-Smiles led Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs at Facebook and was responsible for developing and executing DEI initiatives, operations, and engagement programs,” according to the DOJ.

The feds said Furlow-Smiles, who had access to company credit cards and the ability to approve invoices as part of her role at the company, “caused Facebook to pay numerous individuals,” including her friends and relatives, “for goods and services never provided to the company.

Those individuals would later funnel kickbacks to Furlow-Smiles.

Those allegedly recruited to participate in the kickback scheme included some of Furlow-Smiles’ former interns, her “university tutor,” a hair stylist, babysitters and nannies, the feds said.

It’s unclear if any of Furlow-Smiles’ associates are being charged in connection to the case.

The Post has reached out to the DOJ for further comment.

She also misled Facebook into sending money to entities that did not provide kickbacks, including nearly $10,000 to an artist who created specialty portraits and more than $18,000 to a unnamed preschool.

To avoid scrutiny, Furlow-Smiles would submit fake expense reports claiming that the individuals were vendors at Facebook events who had helped with marketing or provided merchandise.Furlow-Smiles “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,” US Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said in a statement after she pleaded guilty in a Georgia court Tuesday.

Motivated by greed, she used her time to orchestrate an elaborate criminal scheme in which fraudulent vendors paid her kickbacks in cash,” Buchanan added. “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.”FBI Special Agent Keri Farley said, “Furlow-Smiles used lies and deceit to defraud both vendors and Facebook employees.”

The DOJ noted that Meta had “provided valuable assistance and cooperation during the investigation.”“We are cooperating with law enforcement on the case regarding this former program manager, and we will continue to do so,” Meta said in a statement.The DOJ said Furlow-Smiles ran a two-pronged scheme to defraud Facebook. She would pay associates using apps like Venmo and PayPal that were linked to her company credit cards and submit fake expense reports related to those transactions.

The associates – most of whom were reportedly unaware that the funds was coming from Facebook – would return the money to Furlow-Smiles in cash or via account transfer. The feds’ release noted that the cash was sometimes delivered to Furlow-Smiles wrapped up in T-shirts or other items.

For the second part of her scheme, Furlow-Smiles steered Facebook toward using businesses owned by her friends.

Once Facebook had signed off on the deals, she would purportedly approve “fraudulent and inflated invoices” on behalf of the vendors in exchange for kickbacks.Furlow-Smiles is slated to be sentenced on March 19, 2024.

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