Monday, May 1st, 2017

Abacus : Small Enough To Jail

The opening scenes of Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Steve James’s intriguing new film shows an affluent elderly Chinese/American couple watching James Stewart playing the heroic banker George Bailey in the classic movie It’s A Wonderful Life.  This evidently is the Sung’s favorite film and is what successful lawyer Thomas Sung claimed inspired him when in 1984 he opened the first ever Chinese owned Bank in N.Y’s Chinatown as he wanted to be exactly like Bailey and give something back to the local community.  

His Abacus Federal Savings Bank was an immediate success giving seed money to local businesses and providing mortgages for people anxious to buy their first home. As it grew, three of the Sung’s adult daughters became Officers of the Bank and took over the day to day management when their father semi-retired. Then in 201o the Sungs spotted irregularities in the loans department which were traced to one rogue employee who they fired for taking bribes, and then advised the Securities Commission of their actions.

Instead of being applauded for acting so transparently and keeping to the letter of the law, the Manhattan’s D.A.’s Office indicted the Bank, and 19 of its employees, accusing the Bank i.e. the Sungs of conspiracy/  The irony being that all the major Banks and Financial Institutions that had such widespread corrupt practices that had created the dire 2008 economic crisis, had not only escaped prosecution and sanctions and had instead been bailed out wth government funds.  They were, as everyone claimed at the time ‘to big to fall’ and hence that is where the title of this movie comes in, as the authorities seemed happy enough to pick on Abacus simply because it was literally was ‘small enough to jail.’

Even though the Bank had one of the lowest mortgage defaults rates that was barely one tenth of the nation average, they were accused of falsifying loan applications so that borrowers would qualify for mortgages. The D.A. charged then with fraud in relation to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of mortgages that had been sold to Fannie Mae between 2005 and 2010. 

It took the Bank the next three very long years and $10 million and a great deal of blood sweat and tears, which was was quite a toil for the Sung family, to defend themselves in Court. Despite all this they never once wavered from their determination to fight back every inch of the way, even if it felt like David vs Goliath. In the end the Bank was acquitted of all charges essentially after the evidence of their rogue ex-employee who had got himself an immunity deal was completely disproved in Court.

The Sungs are a very close knit family, very stoic and determined not to reveal too much of themselves to cameras even when the going was getting very rough. Thomas is revered not just by his daughters but by the whole Chinatown community who took this assault on the Bank as very personal for them too. It is hard not to think of their indictments as a racist measure especially as the Wall Street giant Banks who had escaped any recriminations are all run by old rich white guys.

James wants us to feel real outrage at Abacus’s singular treatment, particularly because Cyrus Vance the high profile D.A. who made the Bank such a public scapegoat,  still refused to acknowledge that his Office was wrong to put them all through such hell. If he had any other reasons for making the judgement to pursue this prosecution, he certainly wasn’t going to share it in the interview he gave to James.

This very compelling movie will certainly not shed any light for those of us who are still struggling to find out what really happened in the Wall Street ‘Crash’ , but it does yet once again demonstrate the inequalities handed out by the authorities and/or politicians that there really is one rule for big business, and another one for everybody else.



Posted by queerguru  at  23:05


Genres:  documentary

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