Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Why was the only financial firm prosecuted after the 2008 financial crisis a tiny savings bank serving New York's Chinese community?

The new documentary by Hoop Dreams and Life Itself director Steve James, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail works as both a true-life legal thriller and a portrait of a tight-knit community under a tone-deaf siege. Founded by immigrant Thomas Sung and run by him and his family in New York’s Chinatown, Abacus Federal Savings is America’s 2,651st-largest bank (out of nearly 7,000) and has a whopping six branches spread out over three contiguous states.

This juggernaut was also the only bank to be prosecuted after the Great Financial Apocalypse of 2008, and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. did not give Abacus the option to pay a fine or cop to a lesser charge like the rest of the banking world. Instead, he demanded they accept a guilty plea, all while insisting — then and now — that going after a bank serving the Chinese community was a just a coincidence, despite bringing employees into the courthouse chained together like hardened felons. (Optics, broheim!) Director James lets both sides speak for themselves, and the only major player absent from the new interviews is douchebro Ken Yu, the lone Abacus loan officer who actually engaged in fraud — and who went on to become Vance’s star witness. Abacus is a reminder that the greatest privilege still comes from the color green.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Not rated.
Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.

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