'Abacus' Family Warns Their Ordeal Should Be A Wake Up Call

NEW YORK, September 6, 2017 — Following the screening of 'Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,' a new documentary about the embattled Abacus Bank in Manhattan's Chinatown, the bank's founders, the Sung Family, and producer Mark Mitten discuss the film and answer audience questions. (21 min. 48 sec.)

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, no American banks were indicted for their role in the crisis, save one: a small community bank in New York’s Chinatown.

In a new documentary titled Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, director Steve James profiles the Sungs, a Chinese-American family who owns Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a financial institution that existed primarily to serve immigrant families unable to secure loans from larger banks.

When the family discovered in 2009 that an employee had solicited bribes and falsified documents on mortgage applications, they promptly fired him and reported the situation to their regulator. The action set off a five-year ordeal in which New York prosecutors alleged that the entire bank — and the Sung family — had been complicit in and criminally liable for the fraud. Chinese-Americans in the community and many financial industry insiders insisted that the Sungs were scapegoated for problems afflicting larger banks — all of which escaped punishment — and subjected to racial discrimination.

Abacus will premiere on Tuesday, September 12 on PBS’s Frontline, followed by wider release. At a screening at Asia Society in New York Wednesday, members of the Sung family and Abacus producer Mark Mitten discussed the film. The ordeal of the Abacus bank, its founder Thomas Sung said, "should serve as a wake-up call" for social injustice.

Watch the full discussion in the above video, and a trailer for the film in the video below.

Trailer for "Abacus: Small Enough to Jail"

About the Author

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Eric Fish was a Content Producer at Asia Society New York and is author of the book China's Millennials: The Want Generation.