May 26, 2017
Fraud Friday — Abacus Federal Savings Bank: Small Enough to Jail
By Bob Coleman
Editor, Fraud Friday
A new indie film is garnering rave reviews about a small New York Chinatown bank that was the only bank indicted after the 2008 financial crisis.
Abacus Federal Savings Bank was accused of 240 counts of mortgage fraud, securities fraud and conspiracy by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. Ten current and nine former were arrested and chained together as dangerous criminals for the perp walk.
In 1984 Thomas Sung opened Abacus the small community bank in the heart of Chinatown whose mission was to cater directly to the needs of the Chinese immigrant community. The bank is a cornerstone of the Chinatown community, helping many residents buy homes and start businesses.
Sung was bewildered by the indictments because Abacus had discovered an internal money laundering fraud, fired the employee and notified Federal authorities.
And Abacus had one of the lowest mortgage default rates in the country, well below the national average.
Says the filmmaker, “No one disputes that laws were broken at Abacus. There were several loan officers at the bank who were altering mortgage applications to fraudulently qualify Chinese borrowers. These potential borrowers work in a cash economy and don’t routinely have full documentation for large purchases such as a house.
“The Sungs initially welcomed the involvement of the New York City District Attorney Office, expecting they would root out any others within the bank’s loan department who might have committed fraud.
“Instead, it soon became clear that District Attorney Vance had the bank itself in his sights.
“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail follows the Sung family through the difficult last months of the trial and the nerve-wracking wait for the jury’s decision.
“Along the way, the film tells the story of the bank and of the Sung family, who saw defending the bank as something more than just a struggle to save a family business. It became about honor, justice, and standing up for their community. The film also digs deeply into the serious charges brought against the family and features not just their side of the case, but that of the prosecution, including Cyrus Vance, Jr. himself.
The Sungs lawyers believe Vance expected a small bank like Abacus to fold and opt for a plea rather than incur the expense of going to trial. But if Vance expected an easy victory, he was mistaken. Four of the six members in the Sung family have law degrees and the family spent an estimated $10 million to defend themselves and their bank over the course of the five-year ordeal.”
The film has a Rotten Tomato rating of 83% and an audience score of 90%.
PBS has purchased the rights. Limited showings are scheduled in the U.S. through July. No date has been set for airing on PBS.
Check out the trailer here.
Check out the dates to view the film here.