Barbara Furlow-Smiles, the former manager of Facebook’s diversity program, entered a guilty plea, according to the Justice Department, to defrauding the social media behemoth of over $4 million in a complex scheme involving fictitious business partnerships and kickbacks. This development is startling.
Furlow-Smiles was employed by Facebook as a senior strategist and the global leader of the company’s employee resource groups and diversity engagement from approximately January 2017 to September 2021. She coordinated initiatives and oversaw Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs for the large digital corporation during this time.
The Justice Department’s disclosure of information demonstrates how Furlow-Smiles abused her power to approve company credit cards and invoices in order to force Facebook to reimburse users—including friends and family—for products and services that never happened. These people afterwards gave Furlow-Smiles kickbacks.
A hair stylist, nannies, babysitters, a university lecturer for Furlow-Smiles, and a handful of her previous interns are among those who are reportedly implicated in the kickback fraud. It’s unclear if legal action will be taken against these people in relation to this.
Furlow-Smiles made issues worse by tricking Facebook into paying organizations that failed to return bribes. Huge donations were made to various organizations, including nearly $10,000 to an artist for speciality photos and more than $18,000 to an unnamed daycare.
Furlow-Smiles posed as a supplier who helped with marketing, sponsored Facebook events, or provided supplies in order to submit fake cost reports and avoid being caught.
“Motivated by greed, she used her time to orchestrate an elaborate criminal scheme in which fraudulent vendors paid her kickbacks in cash,” stated US Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan, expressing dismay at the breach of trust. Furlow-Smiles’s resolve to fund her opulent lifestyle through dishonest employment rather than an honest career was exposed by Buchanan. She enlisted the assistance of friends, relatives, and coworkers in her illegal endeavors.
FBI Special Agent Keri Farley revealed the dishonest Furlow-Smiles used to trick Facebook employees and vendors. Facebook’s parent company Meta declared that it was supporting law enforcement, saying, “We are cooperating with law enforcement on the case regarding this former program manager, and we will continue to do so.”
Furlow-Smiles’s plan consisted of two sections. She initially made up fake expenditure reports and used Venmo and PayPal to pay acquaintances with her corporate credit cards. Most of these associates had no idea where the money had come from when they returned it to Furlow-Smiles, either in cash or through account transfers. The second was referring Facebook users to companies that her friends owned. Furlow-Smiles is charged with accepting bribes in exchange for approving vendor invoices that were fabricated and exaggerated.
Furlow-Smiles’s case is a major turning point in the investigation into this complex financial crime at one of the biggest software businesses in the world. Furlow-Smiles’ sentence is scheduled for March 19, 2024.