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Former Facebook, Nike Manager Sentenced to Five Years in Prison For Fraud

ATLANTA – Barbara Furlow-Smiles, a former diversity program manager at Facebook and Nike, has been sentenced for stealing more than $5 million based on an elaborate scheme involving fraudulent vendors, fictitious paperwork, and cash kickbacks.

“Furlow-Smiles shamelessly violated her position of trust as a DEI executive at Facebook to steal millions from the company utilizing a scheme involving fraudulent vendors, fake invoices, and cash kickbacks,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan. “After being terminated from Facebook, she brazenly continued the fraud as a DEI leader at Nike, where she stole another six-figure sum from their diversity program. Her prison sentence reflects the consequences of her decision to orchestrate an intricate scheme to defraud two of her employers for personal profit.”

“As Lead Strategist at Facebook, Furlow-Smiles’ employer put an extreme amount of trust in her, only to have that trust completely violated,” said Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “After she was fired, she carelessly continued her fraudulent schemes at Nike, thinking she was untouchable. As a result, she not only threw away a lucrative career, but will serve time behind bars for her excessive greed.”

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 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 had the 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 that were never provided and then directed those individuals to kick back the fraudulent proceeds to her, 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 that in truth were never provided to Facebook. To conceal the bogus charges, Furlow-Smiles submitted fraudulent expense reports, falsely claiming that her associates or their businesses had 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 individuals received the payments from Facebook, they returned the vast majority of the money to Furlow-Smiles. They paid these kickbacks in cash and through account transfers to others, including her husband. They paid the cash kickbacks in person and by Federal Express or mail, sometimes wrapping the cash in other items, such as T-shirts. Furlow-Smiles also directed associates to pay one another, or others to whom she owed money, to conceal her involvement in the scheme.

Second, Furlow-Smiles caused Facebook to onboard several vendors that were owned and operated by friends and associates who paid her kickbacks. Furlow-Smiles approved fraudulent invoices for these vendors. After Facebook paid the invoices, Furlow-Smiles directed the vendors to return a portion of the money they received to her.

Furlow-Smiles recruited numerous individuals to participate in 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.

After Furlow-Smiles was terminated from Facebook, she worked for Nike from November 2021 to February 2023, serving as Senior Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. In that position, she was responsible for supporting DEI initiatives, developing strategies, and hosting DEI events. She was primarily responsible for a Juneteenth event in New York during her time at Nike.

As she had done at Facebook, Furlow-Smiles circumvented the vendor process at Nike to commit fraud. She linked her Nike corporate card to her PayPal and Venmo accounts. She then paid her associates with PayPal and Venmo, causing fraudulent charges to her Nike card. The associates kicked back portions of the payments to Furlow-Smiles, who submitted fraudulent expense reports to Nike to cover her tracks. The expense reports falsely claimed that the payments were related to the Juneteenth event.

In total, Furlow-Smiles stole more than $4.9 million from Facebook and over $120,000 from Nike based on fictitious charges and fraudulent invoices. She used the money to fund a luxury lifestyle in California, Georgia, and Oregon.

Barbara Furlow-Smiles, 38, of Marietta, Georgia, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Steven D. Grimberg to five years, three months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. She was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $4,981,783.58 to Facebook and $121,054.50 to Nike, for a total of $5,102,838.08. Furlow-Smiles was convicted of wire fraud on December 11, 2023, after she pleaded guilty.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.