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Former head of Facebook DEI gets 5 years in prison for fraud

A former head of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at Facebook and Nike was sentenced this week to five years in prison for a brazen fraud scheme she ran while working at those companies.

Barbara Furlow-Smiles pleaded guilty in December to stealing more than $5 million from the two major companies, although the vast majority was taken while she worked for Facebook from 2017 to 2021. She used the stolen money to finance a “luxury lifestyle”. » prosecutors said.

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

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

By exploiting its access to the company’s credit cards on Facebook, which is now called Meta, Furlow-Smiles paid people for services they did not provide to the company, then asked those people to return the money to him.

She involved dozens of people in her scheme, prosecutors said, including “relatives, former interns from a previous job, nannies, a hairdresser and her university tutor.”

At times, Furlow-Smiles asked Facebook to pay third parties directly 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 people did for the company.

She stole approximately $4.9 million from Facebook in the scheme, prosecutors said.

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

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

In a sentencing memorandum, Hamilton argued that her client had been caught up in Facebook’s “move fast and break things” culture and that she was far from the only person to exploit Facebook’s spending. business for its own benefit.

“Barbara…quickly learned that her co-workers were friends with the vendors and relied on them to do things, including offering them bribes to recommend activities to them on Facebook. This was the norm,” Hamilton asserted in the memorandum.

The number of diversity, equity and inclusion positions like those held by Furlow-Smiles skyrocketed in 2020 after the killing of George Floyd, when many companies were forced to consider racial disparities in hiring or workplace issues.

But by the time Furlow-Smiles was arrested in December, those positions had fallen out of favor. DEI initiatives have become a frequent target of Republican politicians, and when layoffs hit the tech sector, the positions were often among those cut first.

California Daily Newspapers

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