Ex-DEI Manager Sentenced to Prison for Stealing Over $5 Million From Facebook, Nike

Tom Ozimek
By Tom Ozimek
May 19, 2024US News
Ex-DEI Manager Sentenced to Prison for Stealing Over $5 Million From Facebook, Nike
A Facebook App logo is displayed on a smartphone in Arlington, Va., on March 25, 2020. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

A former Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) manager at Facebook and Nike has been sentenced to over 5 years in prison for stealing over $5 million in what prosecutors said was an elaborate criminal scheme involving fake vendors and cash kickbacks.

Barbara Furlow-Smiles, who led Facebook’s DEI programs for years and served as Nike’s senior DEI director for just over a year, was sentenced on May 13 to five years and three months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, per the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Ms. Furlow-Smiles, who prosecutors said stole over $4.9 million from Facebook and over $120,000 from Nike, has also been ordered to pay a total of over $5 million to the two companies as restitution for her crimes.

She was convicted of wire fraud in December 2023 after pleading guilty in what prosecutors described as an “elaborate criminal scheme” to defraud her former employers of millions of dollars, which she used to live a luxury lifestyle in California and Georgia.

“Her prison sentence reflects the consequences of her decision to orchestrate an intricate scheme to defraud two of her employers for personal profit,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said in a May 13 statement.

Ms. Furlow-Smiles’s attorney was not immediately available for comment.

‘Elaborate Criminal Scheme’

Prosecutors said in charging documents that, while in her role as a DEI executive, she devised a plan that involved persuading Facebook to onboard a number of vendors that were owned and operated by her friends and associates.

She then approved purchase requisitions for these vendors to provide services to Facebook and then signed off on fraudulent and inflated invoices on the basis of which the company paid these vendors—who then gave her back most of the money.

“Motivated by greed, she used her time to orchestrate an elaborate criminal scheme in which fraudulent vendors paid her kickbacks in cash,” Mr. Buchanan said in a statement on Dec. 12, 2023, after Ms. Furlow-Smiles pleaded guilty to her crimes.

Some people Ms. Furlow-Smiles recruited to participate in her fraudulent scheme were interns from a prior job, nannies and babysitters, a hair stylist, and her university tutor.

Investigators said the fake vendors paid the DEI executive kickbacks both in cash (sometimes wrapped in T-shirts to conceal the ploy) and through transfers to accounts held in various people’s names, including her husband’s. In order to further hide the fraud, Ms. Furlow-Smiles also got the associates to pay one another or give funds to people to whom she owed money.

Most of the people she recruited for the scheme were unaware that the payments came from Facebook, as she linked PayPal, Venmo, and Cash App accounts to her Facebook credit cards and used those accounts to funnel money to associates for services that were never provided.

She submitted fraudulent expense reports to Facebook, falsely claiming that the associates performed work for the company, such as providing marketing services.

“Furlow-Smiles shamelessly violated her position of trust as a DEI executive at Facebook to steal millions from the company utilizing a scheme involving fraudulent vendors, fake invoices, and cash kickbacks,” Mr. Buchanan said in a May 13 statement.

“After being terminated from Facebook, she brazenly continued the fraud as a DEI leader at Nike, where she stole another six-figure sum from their diversity program,” he added.

After Ms. Furlow-Smiles was fired from Facebook, she worked for Nike from November 2021 to February 2023, where she worked as senior director of DEI initiatives.

Much like she did at Facebook, Ms. Furlow-Smiles circumvented the vendor process at Nike to commit fraud and bilk the company out of over $120,000, prosecutors said.

“After she was fired, she carelessly continued her fraudulent schemes at Nike, thinking she was untouchable. As a result, she not only threw away a lucrative career, but will serve time behind bars for her excessive greed,” Keri Farley, special agent in change of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement.

DEI in Focus

In recent years, DEI has surged to prominence, with many businesses and colleges jumping on the trend—and drawing pushback from conservatives.

More than 60 percent of U.S. companies have a race- or gender-based DEI program, according to a 2022 Harvard Business Review survey.

A recent report from the Heritage Foundation shows that DEI initiatives were present at 81 percent of community colleges reviewed; a whopping 96 percent of those with more than 10,000 students boasted some DEI presence.

“Woke radicals are propagating the same racially focused, ideologically driven diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices and training on community college campuses that have distracted four-year institutions from educating students,” wrote Jonathan Butcher, Will Skillman Senior Research Fellow in Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation and lead author of the report.

“DEI is a racist cultural movement that puts the radical ideas from critical race theory, gender theory, and queer theory into practice.”

The explosion of the DEI phenomenon has led some Republican-led states to stand up in opposition, with governors in Florida and Texas signing bills banning public funding of DEI in colleges and universities.

From The Epoch Times

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