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Facebook and Nike diversity chief sentenced to prison for fraud

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

Robin L. Marshall | Getty Images

A former head of diversity at Facebook And Nike was sentenced to five years and three months in prison for stealing more than $5 million from companies that had been earmarked for DEI initiatives, federal prosecutors said.

Georgia resident Barbara Furlow-Smiles, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud in the case in December, stole more than $4.9 million from Facebook “using a scheme involving fraudulent sellers, false invoices and bribes “wine and cash,” Atlanta U.S. Attorney Ryan Buchanan said in a statement. statement.

“After being fired from Facebook, she brazenly 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 luxurious lifestyle in California, Georgia and Oregon,” according to Buchanan’s office, which had asked a judge to sentence her to 6 and a half years.

She served as senior strategist and global lead for employee resource groups and diversity engagement at Facebook, Meta’s subsidiary. She was not the most senior DEI leader at Facebook.

Prosecutors said that while she worked at Facebook, she linked her PayPal, Venmo and Cash App accounts to her Facebook credit cards, then used those accounts to pay her friends, relatives and others for alleged goods and services for the company that had never been delivered.

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

Prosecutors said in a sentencing memo that Meta determined that Furlow-Smiles started the scheme a few months after she joined the company in 2017, and that an investigation found she had “manipulated individuals who were close trusted by her and her, including former interns,” who considered her a mentor.

After being fired 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 executed a theft scheme similar to one she had set up on Facebook, prosecutors said.

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

Meta previously told CNBC that the company has cooperated with law enforcement in the investigation of Furlow-Smiles, who is required to report to prison by July 22.

Prosecutors in their sentencing memo said 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 fees of attorney, which were incurred as a result of Meta having to discover and investigate his fraudulent scheme.

“As Meta notes, ‘the harm caused by criminal conduct (Furlow-Smiles) cannot be measured solely in financial terms,'” prosecutors said in their memo. “Her ‘crimes’ also caused anguish among employees who worked closely with her.'”

Nike told prosecutors that she was “entrusted with the role of leading (the) company, that she would embody the value of ‘doing the right thing,’ which is one of NIKE’s key maxims.” indicated the prosecutor in his note. “As Nike explains, ‘(to say that Ms. Furlow-Smiles violated our trust would be an understatement. The fraud committed by Ms. Furlow-Smiles violated the trust and devastated the employees who led and worked with her.’ “

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

CNBC requested comment from Furlow-Smiles’ attorneys and spokespeople for Meta and Nike on his sentencing.

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