Former Facebook diversity leader pleads guilty to fraud

Barbara Furlow-Smiles attends the 2020 Sisters’ Awards at Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles on March 8, 2020.

Robin L Marshall | Getty Images

A former global diversity strategist at Facebook pleaded guilty to wire fraud after stealing more than $4 million from the social media giant “to fund a lavish lifestyle” in California and Georgia, federal prosecutors said.

Barbara Furlow-Smiles, who led various Facebook Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs from 2017 through mid-2021, stole the money “through an elaborate scheme involving fraudulent vendors, fictitious charges, and cash kickbacks,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta said in a statement.

Furlow-Smiles, who pled guilty in Atlanta federal court on Monday, was not the top DEI leader for Facebook, whose parent company is Meta.

Among other things, prosecutors said Furlow-Smiles, 38, caused Facebook to pay people for goods and services that were never actually provided to the company and then had those individuals pay her kickbacks.

“These individuals included friends, relatives, former interns from a prior job, nannies and babysitters, a hair stylist, and her university tutor,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

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In some instances, Furlow-Smiles had Facebook pay people who did not give her kickbacks, in one case directing $10,000 to an artist for specialty portraits, and more than $18,000 to a preschool for tuition, prosecutors said.

As part of the scheme, 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 purportedly provided to Facebook.

U.S. Attorney Ryan Buchanan, in a statement, said Furlow-Smiles had abused her position of trust at Facebook to “defraud the company of millions of dollars, ignoring the insidious consequences of undermining the importance of her DEI mission.”

Meta provided assistance and cooperation with the criminal investigation, prosecutors said.

Furlow-Smiles, who lives in Atlanta, is scheduled to be sentenced March 19. She is free on a $5,000 bond.

A spokesperson for Meta, in a statement to CNBC, said, “We are cooperating with law enforcement on the case regarding this former program manager, and we will continue to do so.”

Lance Clarke, a lawyer for Furlow-Smiles, did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

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