Beware the Bureaucrat with Power and a Hunger for Headlines
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is a suspenseful David v. Goliath documentary of family loyalty and stubborn courage facing a gigantic government agency and an ego to match. As follows: Tom Sung emigrated from China at 16 and became in time a citizen, a successful lawyer and a resident of upscale Connecticut. Nevertheless he noticed that 'establishment' banks were happy to take his deposits, but when it came to getting a loan, he didn't, as the saying went in the hateful days of the racist Exclusion Act, 'have a Chinaman's chance.' Sung then took a chance and started his own bankAbacus Federal Savings. His timing was perfect: new immigration laws in the 1960s meant Chinatown soon had a] plenty of customers for Abacus and b] something besides Cantonese restaurants. He was a genuine positive force among the Chinese population, admired and respected by all. Then about a decade ago low-ranking Abacus personnel were caught falsifying mortgage applications; they were immediately sacked and their misdeeds reported to feds, as required. Mistake, as it turned out. The subprime- mortgage crisis was big news: until then, few Americans used the word 'trillion' for anything but the national debt or the distance from here to Alpha Centauri. Villains included Citibank, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and while some were fined, no one went to jail and most bonuses were paid as usual. Unfortunately for Abacus, new-minted New York D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr., who was as hungry for publicity as NY's Sen. Charles Schumer, saw a chance for headlines and photo ops. Seeking a halo as the sole public avenger of the crisis, Vance charged Abacus with 80 counts of criminal wrongdoing, launching a court battle that ran five years and cost $10 million. Although the major villains had got off lightly as being 'too big to fail,' Vance's target was indeed 'small enough to jail': in size, Abacus was 2600th among U.S. banks. About the size, as it turned out, of David. This is an excellent documentary, suspenseful but lightened with some bursts of humor among the Sung family as they fight for the reputations and their principles.
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