Jill Sung ’90, center, with her sister Vera and father, the founder of Abacus Federal Savings Bank, in a still from the new documentary by Steven James, which will air on PBS Frontline Sept. 12. The film chronicles the saga of the only U.S. bank indicted for mortgage fraud related to the 2008 financial crisis.
On Sept.12 (check local listings), Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline will broadcast Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, a new documentary by Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Life Itself) that tells the story of the only U.S. bank to be criminally charged in connection with the 2008 financial crisis. That bank is Abacus Federal Savings Bank, located in New York City’s Chinatown and founded in 1984 by Thomas Sung, an immigration lawyer and an immigrant himself, who saw the need for this within the insular community. Sung and his wife are the parents of four daughters—three lawyers and one medical doctor—including two affiliated with the bank: Jill Sung ’90, president and CEO of Abacus, and her elder sister Vera, who sits on the board.
The events that are chronicled were set in motion when the Sungs discovered that one of their loan officers was taking money from borrowers in order to create false loan documents. The Sungs immediately fired him, referred the matter to their regulator, and reported the incident to the police. Yet instead of prosecuting that individual, the district attorney’s office turned their scrutiny on the bank’s officers and employees. In an unprecedented turn of events, 18 Abacus employees were placed under arrest and the press was offered a shocking photo-op: 10 of these employees were “handcuffed to a chain and paraded down the hallway in the Criminal Court building in a staged perp-walk before the national news media like a herd of slaves being led to the auction block,” as Thomas Sung later described that event in his statement to the public after Abacus was found innocent of wrongdoing.
Before that day of vindication, however, the legal proceedings, machinations, and trial sprawled over five long, intense years. James was there to film key moments and conduct interviews, including one with New York City District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who led the prosecution.
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