Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Abacus Federal Savings Bank holds the distinction of being the only financial institution prosecuted as a result of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, though as this engrossing documentary by Steve James suggests, it may have been a sacrificial lamb. A family-owned business, Abacus provides home loans to immigrants in New York’s Chinatown (James, laying it on a bit thick, stresses the bank’s civic-mindedness with clips from It’s a Wonderful Life). Yet good intentions weren’t enough to protect Abacus after New York prosecutors indicted 19 employees and accused the bank of having purposely sold hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent loans to the Federal National Mortgage Association. James focuses on Thomas Sung, the septuagenarian founder of Abacus, and his grown daughters, several of whom are executives at the bank (and one of whom, ironically, worked in the DA’s office when the indictment came down). The family drama adds an emotional dimension to the strictly legal narrative, in which the Sungs’ attorneys try to prove that the wrongdoing was confined to a handful of loan officers.