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Former Facebook Diversity Program Manager Pleads Guilty to $4 Million Fraud Scheme

In a startling revelation, Facebook’s former diversity program manager, Barbara Furlow-Smiles, has pleaded guilty to orchestrating a fraudulent scheme that led to the misappropriation of over $4 million from the social media giant. The Justice Department disclosed that Furlow-Smiles, 38, abused her position as the lead strategist and global head of employee resource groups and diversity engagement to carry out the elaborate fraud.

Scheme Duration and Responsibilities

Spanning from January 2017 to September 2021, Furlow-Smiles spearheaded Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs at Facebook, playing a pivotal role in the development and execution of DEI initiatives, operations, and engagement programs.

Method of Fraudulent Activities

The former diversity program manager executed the fraud by linking PayPal, Venmo, and Cash App accounts to credit cards provided by Facebook. Subsequently, she utilized these accounts to make payments to friends, family, former interns, nannies, babysitters, hairstylists, and others for goods and services that were never rendered to the company. These individuals then allegedly kicked back a percentage of the funds to Furlow-Smiles.

Concealing the Fraud

To conceal the fraudulent activities, Furlow-Smiles submitted false expense reports, falsely claiming that individuals performed work on Facebook programs and events. Additionally, she approved fake and inflated invoices, receiving a portion of the money paid to vendors covertly.

Elaborate Network Involvement

The scheme extended to involve relatives, friends, and associates in her crimes, with kickbacks allegedly paid in cash, sometimes concealed in T-shirts and other items. Furlow-Smiles also influenced Facebook to hire vendors owned by acquaintances who further contributed to the kickback scheme.

Luxury Lifestyle Funded by Fraud

Motivated by greed, Furlow-Smiles utilized the illicit funds to finance a lavish lifestyle in California and Georgia. The fraudulent activities not only betrayed the trust of Facebook but also involved misleading the company into paying entities that did not provide kickbacks, including payments to an artist and a preschool.

Legal Consequences

U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan emphasized the severity of the case, stating that Furlow-Smiles manipulated her position to orchestrate an elaborate criminal scheme, involving relatives and associates, to fund a luxurious lifestyle through fraud. The former diversity program manager is scheduled to be sentenced on March 19, 2024.

As the legal proceedings unfold, this case sheds light on the challenges companies face in ensuring the integrity of their internal operations, especially in roles as critical as diversity program management.

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