Facebook and Nike diversity manager get jail time for fraud

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

Robin L. Marshall | Getty Images

A former diversity manager at Facebook And Nike was sentenced to five years and three months in prison for this more than $5 million stolen of the companies targeted for DEI initiatives, federal prosecutors said.

Barbara Furlow-Smiles, a resident of Georgia, has pleaded guilty cable fraud in the case, stole more than $4.9 million from Facebook in December “using a scheme that involved fraudulent vendors, counterfeit invoices and kickbacks,” U.S. Attorney Ryan Buchanan from Atlanta said in a statement.

“After being fired from Facebook, she blatantly continued the fraud as a DEI leader at Nike, where she stole another six-figure sum from their diversity program,” Buchanan said.

Furlow-Smiles, 38, used the money she stole “to finance a lavish lifestyle in California, Georgia and Oregon,” according to Buchanan's office, which asked a judge to sentence her to 6.5 years .

She was chief strategist and global head of employee groups and diversity engagement at Facebook, Meta's subsidiary. She was not the top DEI executive at Facebook.

Prosecutors said that while working at Facebook, she linked PayPal, Venmo and Cash App accounts to her Facebook credit cards and then used those accounts to pay her friends, family members and others for purported goods and services for the company that were never delivered.

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“The vast majority of the money” that went to those other people was funneled back to Furlow-Smiles, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said in a sentencing memo that Meta determined that Furlow-Smiles began the scheme within months of joining the company in 2017, and that investigations revealed she had “manipulated individuals close to and trusted her, including former interns', who regarded her as a mentor.

After being laid off from Facebook in mid-2021, Furlow-Smiles worked for Nike from November of that year to February 2023 as senior director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

While there, she carried out a theft scheme similar to what she did at Facebook, prosecutors said.

Furlow-Smiles, who lives in Marietta, was sentenced Monday in Atlanta federal court. District Judge Steven Grimberg also ordered her to pay $4.98 million in restitution to Facebook, and another $121,000 to Nike.

Meta previously told CNBC that the company was cooperating with law enforcement in the investigation of Furlow-Smiles, who is due to report to jail by July 22.

Prosecutors said in their sentencing memo that in addition to the money Furlow-Smiles stole from the company, Meta lost more than $4.5 million “in addition to other expenses, such as attorneys' fees, incurred as a result of Meta having to track down and investigate her fraud scheme.”

“As Meta notes, 'the damage of [Furlow-Smiles’] criminal conduct cannot be measured purely in financial terms,” prosecutors said in their memo. “Her crimes also resulted in fear among employees who worked closely with her.”

Nike told prosecutors that she had been “entrusted with the role of leader.” [the] company, that it would embody the value of 'Doing the Right Thing,' which is one of NIKE's core maxims,” ​​the plaintiff said in their memo. “As Nike explains: '[t]o to say that Mrs Furlow-Smiles has betrayed our trust would be an understatement. The fraud committed by Ms Furlow-Smiles has betrayed the trust of and had devastating consequences for the employees who managed and worked with her.” “

Nike also told prosecutors that her “complete lack of responsibility or remorse was incredibly disappointing,” according to the memo.

CNBC has asked Furlow-Smiles' attorneys and spokespersons for Meta and Nike for comment on her conviction.

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