Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

A Social Cinema Screening

The only United States bank indicted for mortgage fraud related to the 2008 financial crisis is the one you’ve never heard of. 

Charged with securities fraud, mortgage fraud, and conspiracy, Chinatown’s Abacus Federal Savings Bank — the country's 2,531st largest bank and a cornerstone of the Chinese immigrant community — became the only bank in the U.S. to face criminal charges in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Part legal thriller, part underdog saga, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, a film from director Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Life, Itself), tells the incredible tale of the Sung family and their five-year, ten-million-dollar legal battle to defend themselves and their bank’s legacy. 

Thomas Sung, a prominent lawyer and real estate developer, opened the Abacus bank in 1984 to provide the small housing and business loans that Chinatown’s residents and business owners were routinely denied. The small, fiscally conservative bank weathered the 2008 worldwide economic meltdown, but at the same time large, global banking institutions were deemed “too-big-to-fail” and given bailouts, Abacus saw its employees marched out of the bank in chains for the evening news.

On September 7, New America NYC presented a screening of Abacus: Small Enough to Jailfollowed by a conversation with the film’s director, the Sung family, and legal experts on the unequal application of corporate justice in America and what — if anything — is being done to correct it.

PARTICIPANTS

Steve James @AbacusMovie
Director, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Thomas Sung
Founder & Chairman, Abacus Federal Savings Bank

Jill Sung
President & CEO, Abacus Federal Savings Bank

Jesse Eisinger @eisingerj
Senior Reporter, ProPublica 
Fellow, New America
Author, The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives

Sheelah Kolhatkar @sheelahk
Staff writer, The New Yorker
Author, Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street

Contributor:

Jesse Eisinger was a Class of 2016 & 2017 New America Fellow, and is the author of The Chickenshit Club—an inside reference to prosecutors who were too scared of failure and too daunted by legal impediments to do their jobs. He is a senior reporter at ProPublica and writes a regular column for the New York Times’ Dealbook section.