Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is the little-known story about the only US bank to face criminal charges in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. When Abacus Federal Savings bank, a small, family-run bank in New York’s Chinatown is prosecuted for mortgage fraud, it must defend itself and its legacy in a five-year legal battle.

Thomas Sung walks through the streets of New York City’s Chinatown. He’s greeted by the community as an elder statesman, and something of an icon. But years ago, despite his personal success as a lawyer and real estate developer, Sung had trouble securing a mortgage. He wasn’t alone. “Banks at that time wanted Chinese depositors,” says Sung, “but not borrowers.” In 1984, Sung opened Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a small community bank that would cater directly to the needs of the Chinese immigrant community.

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Fiscally conservative, Abacus was able to weather the 2008 economic implosion. Institutions like JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and HBSC, all participated in the massive mortgage fraud that nearly took down the world economy, but not a single one was criminally indicted or prosecuted. In fact, the American taxpayers bailed out these banks because they were deemed “too-big-to-fail.”

Only one bank was ever prosecuted for mortgage fraud: Abacus Federal Savings Bank.

In 2010, the New York County District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., announced the indictments of nineteen former Abacus employees and the bank itself with much fanfare, saying that the institution engaged in “large scale mortgage fraud” that included hundreds of millions in loans. Vance’s office paraded ten current and former Abacus employees before the media, chained together as if they were dangerous criminals.

No one disputes that laws were broken at Abacus. Several loan officers at the bank were altering mortgage applications to fraudulently qualify Chinese borrowers. But once Thomas Sung’s daughters, Jill (Abacus’ President) and Vera (Bank Director), discovered the fraud, they quickly fired the loan officer involved and reported the incident to the federal authorities, all in keeping with federal regulations. Abacus also had one of the lowest mortgage default rates in the country – less the 1/20th the national average.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail follows the Sung family through the difficult last months of the trial and the nerve-wracking wait for the jury’s decision. Along the way, the film tells the story of the bank and of the Sung family, who saw defending the bank as something more than just a struggle to save a family business. It became about honor, justice, and standing up for their community. Four of the six members in the Sung family have law degrees and the family spent an estimated $10 million to defend themselves and their bank over the course of the five-year ordeal.

With remarkable access to all the players in this complex story, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail creates an intimate portrait of the Sungs’ private and public struggles as they make their way through a difficult trial and its aftermath.

Credits (Click to expand)

Mitten Media, Motto Pictures, Kartemquin Films

In association with Blue Ice Film Fund

present

ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL

DIRECTED BY

Steve James

PRODUCED BY

Mark Mitten, p.g.a.

Julie Goldman, p.g.a.

DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY  

Tom Bergmann

EDITED BY  

John Farbrother

David E. Simpson

MUSIC BY   

Joshua Abrams

EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS

Gordon Quinn

Betsy Steinberg

Christopher Clements

Justine Nagan

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER FOR FRONTLINE

Raney Aronson-Rath

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER FOR ITVS

Sally Jo Fifer

CO-EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS FOR BLUE ICE DOCS

Steven Silver

Neil Tabatznik

Robin Smith

CO-PRODUCERS

Fenell Doremus

Nick Verbitsky

ASSOCIATE PRODUCER   

Sean Lyness

ORIGINAL COURTROOM ILLUSTRATIONS

Christine Cornell

LOCATION SOUND  

Daniel Nidel

ADDITIONAL CAMERA

Sam Cullman

Jackson James

ADDITIONAL SOUND                                          

Joe Maggio

CAMERA ASSISTANT                                                          

Nancy Serna

POST PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR

Ryan Gleeson

MUSIC SUPERVISOR                                                           

Linda Cohen

MUSIC MIXED BY                                                           

John McEntire at Soma E.M.S.

MUSIC RECORDED BY                                                           

Joshua Abrams & John McEntire

MUSICIANS

Joshua Abrams

Mikel Avery

Jeb Bishop

Rashida Black

James Sanders

Robert Sanders

Jason Stein

GRAPHIC DESIGN                                                           

Sarofsky

ADDITIONAL GRAPHICS  

Matt Taylor

COURTROOM REENACTMENT CAST

Margaret Colin

Justin Deas

Richard Lau

Shao Wen Liang

Megan Rork

Mindy Shi

Miao Yu

ASSISTANT EDITORS  

Mina Fitzpatrick

Carlos Cova

Nancy McDonald

Eugene Kobayashi

ARCHIVAL RESEARCH

Emily Hart

PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS                                                        

Sam Bender

Marley Cogan

Dongni Lanca Li

Olivia Ramos Reed

Chris Zacarias

Jingyang Cheng

ASSISTANT TO THE PRODUCER  

Kathryn Morse

POST PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS

HyoJin Park              

Ingrid Roettgen

Wei Ying

FOR KARTEMQUIN FILMS

DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS AND DISTRIBUTION   

Tim Horsburgh

COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE  

Sarah Schwartz

DIRECTOR OF PRODUCTION                                                          

Hillary Bachelder

PROGRAMS AND ENGAGEMENT MANAGER  

Emily Strong

FINANCE                                                                                      

Suzanne Niemoth

Pedro Urgiles

Marriah Kern                                                                    

TECHNICAL SUPERVISOR

Jim Morrissette

         

FOR MOTTO PICTURES   

PRODUCTION EXECUTIVE  

Carolyn Hepburn

PRODUCTION COORDINATOR

Marissa Ericson

POST PRODUCTION AUDIO

Another Country

RE-RECORDING MIXER

Drew Weir

SOUND EFFECTS EDITORS  

Alex Paguirigan

Mike Regan

AUDIO POST SUPERVISOR  

Tim Konn

VOICE-OVER RECORDING FACILITY                                            

Cutters New York

SOUND ENGINEER  

Eric Thompson

TRANSLATION

Jane Hu

Jack Guan

TRANSCRIPTION  

Kathryn Drury

Dena Saedi

Zachary Vanes

LEGAL COUNSEL  

Holland & Knight LLP

Robert Labate

Christina Fernandez

FAIR USE CONSULTANT

Peter Jaszi

ARCHIVAL STILLS AND FOOTAGE

NTDTV

Sinovision

John Sotomayor/The New York Times/Redux

David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University

Jefferson Siegel

Associated Press

WPIX-TV

NY1

Fotog/Tetra Images/Getty Images

REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Simon Hayter Photography

ADDITIONAL ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE

JP Morgan Chase Archives

Republic Pictures

MUSIC                                                                      

“Begin The Beijing”

Written by Sumeet Chopra

Courtesy of Extreme Production Music

             

THANKS                                                                  

Sarah Aberg

Beast

Officer Lethisha Crespo

Marcus Davis

Michael DiMaggio

The Honorable Judge Roger S. Hayes

Rachel Hochhauser              

Elly Huang

William Hwang              

Sandie Lee

Julieta Lozano

Elizabeth Mayer

The New Yorker

Judy Roth

Thomas Rotko              

Sergeant Stephen Ryan                                                      

Wai Hung "Raymond" Tam

Joan Vollero

Colleen Walsh

Salina Wan

William Wong              

Yiu Wah Wong

Bettina Yang

Bei Ye

New York State Supreme Court

The People of Chinatown NYC

The City of New York           

FOR ITVS

SENIOR PRODUCER OF NATIONAL PRODUCTIONS            

Richard O'Connell

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER

Sally Jo Fifer

FOR BLUE ICE DOCS

CO-EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS

Steven Silver

Neil Tabatznik

Robin Smith

Some court testimony in this film has been edited for clarity.   

                                                                                            

FOR FRONTLINE

PRODUCTION MANAGER

Megan McGough Christian                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

SENIOR PROMOTION

PRODUCER

Missy Frederick

ON-AIR PROMOTION EDITOR

Barry Clegg

ASSISTANT EDITORS

Lindsey Rundell Denault

Deb Holland

POST PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS

Miles Alvord

Kenzie Audette

Brenna Verre

FOR WGBH OUTPOST

DIRECTOR OF POST PRODUCTION

Chris Fournelle

SENIOR DIRECTOR

PRODUCTION TECHNOLOGY

Tim Mangini

SERIES MUSIC

Mason Daring

Martin Brody

SENIOR DIRECTOR OF AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT

Pamela Johnston

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT

Patrice Taddonio

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR

Katherine Griwert

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT SPECIALIST

Anne Husted

EDITORIAL ASSISTANT

Emma Joslyn

SERIES PRODUCER, AUDIO

Sophie McKibben

SERIES ASSOCIATE PRODUCER

Amy Gaines

RECORDS MANAGER

John Campopiano

EDITORIAL RESEARCH MANAGER

Lisa Palone

LEGAL

Eric Brass

Jay Fialkov

Janice Flood

SENIOR CONTRACTS MANAGER

Gianna DeGiulio

BUSINESS MANAGER

Sue Tufts

DIRECTOR OF BUSINESS

Tobee Phipps

DEVELOPER

Ly Chheng

SENIOR DIGITAL DESIGNER

Dan Nolan

INTERACTIVE EDITOR

Chris Amico

FRONTLINE/COLUMBIA

JOURNALISM SCHOOL FELLOWSHIPS

ABRAMS JOURNALISM FELLOW

Anjali Tsui

TOW JOURNALISM FELLOW

Katie Worth

DIGITAL REPORTER

Priyanka Boghani

DIGITAL VIDEO PRODUCER

Jason Kashdan

SENIOR DIGITAL VIDEO PRODUCER

Michelle Mizner

DIGITAL EDITOR

Jason Breslow

SENIOR REPORTER

Sarah Childress

SERIES STORY EDITOR

Lauren Ezell Kinlaw

POST COORDINATING PRODUCER

Robin Parmelee

DIRECTOR OF DIGITAL VIDEO

Carla Borras

SPECIAL COUNSEL

Dale Cohen

SENIOR EDITOR AT LARGE

Louis Wiley Jr.

MANAGING EDITOR

Andrew Metz

MANAGING DIRECTOR

Jim Bracciale

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER AT LARGE

David Fanning

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER

Raney Aronson-Rath

A Mitten Media, Motto Pictures, and Kartemquin Films Production for WGBH/FRONTLINE and Independent Television Service (ITVS)

© 2016, WGBH Educational Foundation and Abacus Film LLC  

All rights reserved.

FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH/Boston,

which is solely responsible for its content.

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