The story behind the only bank prosecuted after the 2008 financial crisis

After the 2008 financial crisis took millions of investment dollars from Americans, shell shocked financial advisers and briefly turned the country upside down, only one bank was indicted: Abacus Federal Savings in Chinatown, New York — the 2,531st largest bank in the U.S.

Founded by Chinese-American immigrant Thomas Sung in the 1980s, the bank has six branches in three states and primarily serves the Chinese community. Federal prosecutors indicted it in 2009 for mortgage fraud, securities fraud, and conspiracy after it reported to regulators it had discovered a loan officer was laundering money there.

Rather than plead guilty, the Sungs went to court. A new documentary from Oscar-nominated “Hoop Dreams” director Steve James follows the subsequent legal battle, which plays out in the film as a David and Goliath tale of a small bank taking the fall for the financial crisis over an isolated incident with a corrupt loan officer.

“Too big to fail turns into small enough to jail, and Abacus is small enough to jail,” journalist Matt Taibbi says in the film, calling the bank “as easy a target as you could possibly pick.”

With an intimate view of the fight for innocence from a stoic Thomas Sung, his razor sharp daughters (all lawyers), and his fiery wife, it’s clear the film has a sympathetic eye for Abacus as it goes up against the U.S. government, frequently comparing Thomas Sung to George Bailey in his wife’s favorite film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“It seemed clear to us as filmmakers that this bank was the mirror opposite of the big banks,” director Steve James…

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