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Lawyer says she ‘got caught up’ in the ‘move fast and break things’ culture on Facebook

A former diversity and inclusion manager at Facebook and Nike has been sentenced to five years and three months in prison for stealing more than $5 million from the tech giant to “fund a lavish lifestyle.”

Barbara Furlow-Smiles, who pleaded guilty in December to wire fraud in the case, stole more than $4.9 million earmarked for Facebook’s DEI initiatives after apparently becoming “caught up” in the “move fast and break things” scheme -culture.

The 38-year-old was chief strategist and global head of people groups and diversity engagement at the social media giant from 2017 to 2021 before being fired.

It’s unclear whether Furlow-Smiles was let go from Facebook because of this fraud, but she subsequently joined Nike, where she continued to “brazenly” swindle a six-figure sum from the sportswear giant’s diversity program until 2023.

“Furlow-Smiles brazenly violated her position of trust as Facebook’s DEI manager by stealing millions from the company through a scheme that involved fraudulent suppliers, false invoices and kickbacks,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said in a statement .

Furlow-Smiles, who lives in Marietta, Georgia, was convicted in Atlanta federal court in May and ordered to return the money, including more than $121,000, to Nike.

“Not only has she wasted a lucrative career, but she will also spend time behind bars for her excessive greed,” concluded Keri Farley, special agent in charge of the FBI in Atlanta.

How did she do it?

Furlow-Smiles was able to steal from Facebook, now Meta, because she was a senior employee with access to company credit cards and the authority to sign off on invoices – or, in this case, fake invoices from suppliers who were her family and friends.

“But these individuals did not provide any goods or services to the company,” the law firm noted.

After Facebook paid the vendors — including her former interns, a hairstylist, babysitters, nannies, and even her college teacher — she ordered that they send her a portion of the money they received.

Bribes were often paid in cash, sometimes wrapped in T-shirts, or through wire transfers to accounts in the names of her husband and others.

Not only did Furlow-Smiles cover her tracks by submitting false expense reports, she also instructed employees to pay each other or others to whom she owed money.

But the law firm said “most” of its employees “didn’t know the payments came from Facebook.”

Furlow-Smiles also deceived Facebook into paying third parties for personal goods or services that did not result in kickbacks, including nearly $10,000 to an artist for special portraits and more than $18,000 to an unnamed preschool for tuition.

She got caught up in Facebook’s ‘move fast and break things’

“I screwed up big time,” Furlow-Smiles admitted in a letter to the judge in her case, adding that her actions “added fuel to the fire of disengagement and attack on DEI efforts.”

But the disgraced DEI officer showed no remorse in Nike’s eyes.

The company told prosecutors that she “was entrusted as leader of (the) company to embody the value of ‘Doing the Right Thing’, which is one of NIKE’s core maxims,” adding that her “full lack of accountability or remorse was incredibly disappointing.”

Still, Furlow-Smiles’ attorney placed some of the blame for her actions on her previous employer.

In a sentencing memorandum, Phillip Hamilton argued that his client became ensnared by Facebook’s “move fast and break things” culture and that others also exploited the company’s spending for their own benefit.

“Barbara … quickly learned that colleagues were friends with suppliers and depended on these suppliers for certain things, including providing kickbacks for referring Facebook business to them. It was the norm,” Hamilton alleged in the memorandum.

Neither Meta nor Nike have responded Fortune’s request for comment.

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