Atlanta-based former Facebook DEI manager pleads guilty to fraud

Officials said Barbara Furlow-Smiles stole more than $4 million to fund a luxury lifestyle in California and Georgia

Barbara Furlow-Smiles, a former lead of employee resource groups and diversity engagement at Facebook, this week pleaded guilty to stealing more than $4 million from her ex-employer, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta.

Furlow-Smiles, 38, was charged and pleaded guilty Monday to one count of wire fraud. Prosecutors said Furlow-Smiles made fraudulent purchases using Facebook-issued credit cards and a network of associates, including relatives, to kickback money to herself, according to charging documents.

“Furlow-Smiles used lies and deceit to defraud both vendors and Facebook employees,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a news release.

She led diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs for Facebook from January 2017 until September 2021, according to officials. During that time, she had access to company credit cards and could submit purchase requests and approve invoices, which she used to steal millions from Facebook, which later in 2021 changed its name to Meta Platforms, according to the charging documents.

Lawyers for Furlow-Smiles declined to comment.

Furlow-Smiles used a series of false credit card charges, fraudulent vendors and friends, relatives and other associates for cash kickbacks, and her scheme worked two ways, according to officials.

First, she linked her Facebook credit cards to PayPal, Venmo and Cash App accounts which she then used to send money to friends, relatives and other associates. The charges were ostensibly for goods and services they provided to the company, but in reality nothing was provided to Facebook, prosecutors said. To cover the fraudulent credit card charges, Furlow-Smiles submitted fake expense reports.

The associates would then give most of the money back to Furlow-Smiles in cash or through transfers to her husband’s and others’ accounts. The kickbacks were sometimes paid by wrapping the cash in t-shirts, prosecutors said.

Second, Furlow-Smiles brought on friends and other associates as vendors for Facebook and would approve fraudulent or inflated invoices to pay them, according to the charging documents. They would then give a portion of the money back to her.

Along with friends and relatives, she funneled the kickbacks through former interns from a different job, nannies, babysitters, a hair stylist and her university tutor, according to prosecutors.

Officials said she used the money to fund a luxury lifestyle in California and Georgia. But the fraud wasn’t only through kickbacks. The charging document outlined instances of Furlow-Smiles using Facebook to pay nearly $10,000 to an artist for specialty portraits and more than $18,000 for preschool tuition.

In July 2021, she sent more than $14,000 from a PayPal account linked to her Facebook credit cards, which led to her wire fraud charge.

It is unclear when or why Furlow-Smiles left Facebook. In a video posted in 2022 by an Atlanta trade association, Furlow-Smiles talked about her work with employee resource groups at the company.

“I have the coolest job on the planet,” she said in the video.

Facebook declined to answer questions regarding her employment, saying it is an ongoing legal matter.

“We are cooperating with law enforcement on the case regarding this former program manager, and we will continue to do so,” a Meta spokesperson said in an email.

Furlow-Smiles’ sentencing is scheduled for March 19, 2024.

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