Barbara Furlow-Smiles, 38, a former global diversity strategist for Facebook, pled guilty on Tuesday to wire fraud charges related to an elaborate scheme that involved stealing more than $4 million from the social media giant.
Furlow-Smiles held a high-ranking position at the company as the lead strategist and global head of employee resource groups and diversity engagement between January 2017 and September 2021. She was responsible for developing and executing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and had access to company credit cards, as well as the authority to approve invoices.
According to federal prosecutors, Furlow-Smiles used her position to cheat and defraud the company through a complex scheme involving fictitious vendors, fraudulent charges, and kickbacks.
She linked personal PayPal, Venmo, and Cash App accounts to her Facebook credit cards and used them to pay friends, relatives, and others for goods and services that were never provided to the company. She then submitted fraudulent expense reports to hide these charges, falsely claiming that her friends had provided services to Facebook.
Furlow-Smiles also had Facebook hire vendors operated by her friends, and she approved inflated or fake invoices to pay them. These vendors then kicked back a portion of the money to her, sometimes through fake accounts set up in her husband's or other people's names.
She used the stolen funds to support a lavish lifestyle in California and Georgia, including paying for high-end items such as artwork, luxury travel, and even preschool tuition.
The group of people involved in the scheme included friends, relatives, former interns from a previous job, nannies and babysitters, a hair stylist, and her university tutor. However, prosecutors stated that many of these individuals were unaware that the money they received was coming from Facebook.
The investigation was launched after Meta, Facebook's parent company, discovered irregularities in Furlow-Smiles's financial transactions. They promptly reported the matter to the FBI, who conducted a thorough investigation into the matter with cooperation from the company.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Ryan Buchanan expressed his disappointment in Furlow-Smiles's actions, saying, "She used the money to live a luxury lifestyle in California and Georgia, ignoring the insidious consequences of undermining the importance of her DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] mission."
Buchanan also commended the cooperation between Meta and the FBI, which led to the discovery and prosecution of Furlow-Smiles's fraudulent activities. Her sentencing is scheduled for March 19, and she faces a potential prison sentence and hefty fine.
As for Facebook, they have not made any comments about the incident, but it is likely that they will be implementing stricter financial controls and oversight as a result of this incident to prevent future fraudulent activities.