‘I blew it big time.’ Former Facebook DEI head gets 5 years in prison for stealing millions

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

A former head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives at Facebook and Nike was sentenced to five years in prison this week for a brazen fraud scheme she ran while working at the companies.

Barbara Furlow-Smiles pleaded guilty in December to stealing more than $5 million from the two massive companies, though the vast majority was taken during her time working for Facebook from 2017 to 2021. She used the stolen cash to fund a “luxury lifestyle,” prosecutors said.

“I blew it big time,” Furlow-Smiles admitted in a letter to the judge in her case.

Furlow-Smiles said she had a lifetime commitment to being a voice for disenfranchised people, but acknowledged that her actions “added fuel to the fire of disengagement and attack of DEI efforts.”

Exploiting her access to company credit cards at Facebook, which is now called Meta, Furlow-Smiles would pay people for services they did not do for the company, then have those people kick back the money to her.

She brought dozens of people into her scheme, prosecutors said, including “relatives, former interns from a prior job, nannies, a hair stylist, and her university tutor.”

Sometimes, Furlow-Smiles had Facebook directly pay third parties for personal goods or services, including $10,000 for specialty portraits and $18,000 for her child’s preschool tuition. She would then submit false reports about the work the people had done for the company.

She stole about $4.9 million from Facebook as part of the scheme, prosecutors said.

After Furlow-Smiles was terminated from Facebook, she continued a similar scheme at Nike, where she worked from 2021 to 2023. At Nike, Furlow-Smiles stole more than $100,000.

Furlow-Smiles’ attorney, Phillip Hamilton, had asked the court not to put her behind bars.

In a sentencing memorandum, Hamilton argued that his client got caught up in Facebook’s “move fast and break things” culture and that she was far from the only person who exploited the company’s expenses for their own benefits.

“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,” Hamilton alleged in the memorandum.

The number of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion positions like the ones held by Furlow-Smiles skyrocketed in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, when many companies were forced to reckon with racial hiring disparities or issues within the workplace.

But by the time Furlow-Smiles was arrested in December, the positions were falling out of favor. DEI initiatives became a frequent target of Republican politicians, and when layoffs hit the tech sector, the positions were often among those that were first slashed.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.