ATLANTA – Barbara Furlow-Smiles, a former global diversity executive at Facebook, has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $4 million from the company utilizing an elaborate scheme involving fraudulent vendors, fictitious charges, and cash kickbacks.
“This defendant 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,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan of the Northern District of Georgia. “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.”
“Furlow-Smiles used lies and deceit to defraud both vendors and Facebook employees,” said Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “The FBI works hard to make sure greed like this doesn’t pay off and those who commit fraud are held accountable.”
According to U.S. Attorney Buchanan, the charges and other information presented in court: Barbara 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 about 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 maintained 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 never provided to the company. Those individuals then paid kickbacks to Furlow-Smiles, often in cash. Her scheme operated in two ways.
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 purportedly provided to Facebook. But these individuals did not provide goods or services to the company. Most of them did not know that the payments came from Facebook. To conceal the bogus charges on her Facebook credit cards, Furlow-Smiles submitted fraudulent expense reports, falsely claiming that her associates or their businesses performed work on programs and events for Facebook, such as providing swag or marketing services when, in fact, they had not done so.
After these associates received payments from Facebook, they returned most of the money to Furlow-Smiles. They paid these kickbacks in cash and through transfers to accounts held in her husband’s and others’ names. Associates paid cash kickbacks in person and by Federal Express or mail, sometimes wrapping the cash in other items, such as T-shirts. To further conceal her actions, Furlow-Smiles also directed associates to pay one another, or others who she owed money.
Second, Furlow-Smiles caused Facebook to onboard several vendors that were owned and operated by friends and associates who also paid her kickbacks. After Facebook approved contracts for these vendors, Furlow-Smiles approved purchase requisitions for these purported vendors to work for Facebook. Furlow-Smiles then approved fraudulent and inflated invoices to pay the vendors. After Facebook paid the invoices, Furlow-Smiles directed the vendors to return a portion of the money to her.
Furlow-Smiles recruited numerous individuals to receive money and pay kickbacks as part of the scheme. These individuals included friends, relatives, former interns from a prior job, nannies and babysitters, a hair stylist, and her university tutor. She also caused Facebook to make payments for her benefit to others who did not pay kickbacks. For example, Furlow-Smiles caused Facebook to pay nearly $10,000 to an artist for specialty portraits and more than $18,000 to a preschool for tuition.
In total, Furlow-Smiles stole more than $4 million from Facebook based on fictitious charges and fraudulent invoices for which goods and services were never provided to the company. She used the money to live a luxury lifestyle in California and Georgia.
Sentencing for Barbara Furlow-Smiles, also known as “Barbara Furlow,” 38, of Atlanta, Georgia, is scheduled for March 19, 2024, before U.S. District Judge Steven D. Grimberg.
This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Meta provided valuable assistance and cooperation during the investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephen H. McClain and Bernita B. Malloy are prosecuting the case.