Former DEI Executive Jailed For 5 Years After Stealing MILLIONS From Nike And Facebook

Bryndís Blackadder

A former Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion leader who worked at Facebook and Nike has been sentenced to 5 years and 3 months in prison for her extensive multi-million dollar wire fraud schemes.

Barbara Furlow-Smiles is reported as having stolen over $5 million from her employers by “utilizing a scheme involving fraudulent vendors, fake invoices, and cash kickbacks” to which she pled guilty in December 2023.

Furlow-Smiles began her industrious thefts while employed as a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Executive at Facebook where she was responsible for “developing and executing DEI initiatives, operations, and engagement programs.”

She then went on to work for Nike as a DEI leader where she “where she stole another six-figure sum from their diversity program” as described US Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan in the sentencing statement released on May 13.

The 38-year-old from Atlanta, Georgia, had pleaded guilty to the theft of millions of dollars in where she was accused of using the stolen cash to fund a “luxury lifestyle in California, Georgia, and Oregon.”

Furlow-Smiles worked at Facebook between January 2017 and September 2021 where she fraudulently obtained over $4.9 million in her role as Lead Strategist, Global Head of Employee Resource Groups and Diversity Engagement in the subsidiary company of Meta Platforms Inc.

Her theft utilized a multi-faceted scheme, first using “PayPal, Venmo, and Cash App accounts” linked to her Facebook credit cards which she used to pay out sums to individuals. She then created fake expense reports to “conceal bogus charges” that were in fact paid out to her family, friends and other associates who provided nothing in return to the company. 

The vast majority of money that the individuals received was then transferred to Furlow-Smiles through “kickbacks” given to her husband and other associates via cash and other means. Some of the cash was physical wads wrapped in t-shirts. The money would be laundered amongst the fraudsters to pay each other before returning to Furlow-Smiles, sometimes via her husband, in an effort to cloak her involvement.

The scheme also involved recruiting “former interns from a prior job, nannies and babysitters, a hair stylist, and her university tutor” as new Facebook “vendors,” and charging Meta for transacting with these businesses owned by her partners in crime. This purloined cash was then partly returned to Furlow-Smiles in more illicit kickbacks.

Outside of direct financial remuneration from her fellow scammers, Furlow-Smiles also used Facebook coin to purchase a bespoke artist-created portrait for around $10,000 and charged her employers for $18,000 in preschool tuition for her child. Her ill-gotten gains totaled $4.9 million from her two techniques of fraud.

But she didn’t stop there, and Furlow-Smiles then moved on to Nike where she worked between November 2021 and February 2023.

During her tenure, she was placed in charge of the 2022 Nike Juneteenth event in New York and also managed the brand’s “Black Community Commitment,” which gave a number of support grants to local African-American organizations.

Described as “thinking she was untouchable” and using the same methods of fraud as she used at Facebook, Furlow-Smiles confidently swindled a further $120,000 from Nike, telling the sportswear giant that the transactions were expenses related to the Juneteenth festivities.

“I blew it big time,” Furlow-Smiles admitted in a letter she penned for the court, which accepted her guilty plea following the F.B.I investigation into her crimes. Special Agent Keri Farley of FBI Atlanta described Furlow-Smiles as being motivated by “excessive greed.”

Earlier this month, U.S District Judge Steven D. Grimberg handed down a 5-year and 3-month sentence to Furlow-Smiles, also ordering her to pay back $4,981,783.58 to Facebook and $121,054.50 to Nike.

Pleading with the Judge to not put his client behind bars, Furlow-Smiles’ defense attorney, Philip Hamilton, stated in a sentencing memorandum that she had simply been taking part in the company culture of “move fast and break things.” Hamilton also claimed that she was not the only person engaging in these duplicitous schemes.

“Barbara … quickly learned that coworkers were friends with vendors and relied on these vendors to do certain things, which included providing kickbacks for referring Facebook business to them. It was the norm,” he claimed.

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