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Inside the Oscar-Nominated Abacus Bank Documentary: Part 1

Director Steve James on Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

By Xie Yi Updated Feb.26

A public outcry for Wall Street bankers, traders and executives to be punished for malfeasance followed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. None were prosecuted – except those of a small Chinese-American community bank.

In 2012, the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. indicted 19 former employees of Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a family-owned bank that primarily serves Chinese immigrants in New York’s Chinatown, on 240 counts including mortgage fraud.

Abacus founder Thomas Sung was determined to fight the charges, which he believed were racially motivated. 

In 2015, after a four-month trial, Abacus Federal Savings Bank and two of its senior officers were found not guilty of all 240 counts.

Award-winning filmmaker Steve James followed the story of the Sung family and chronicled the trial in 2015. He shares his thoughts on the case, the Chinatown saga and the lives of Chinese immigrants.