Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Depending on who you ask, I think most people will generally view the 2008 global financial crisis as being caused by the Greedy Elite Bankers thinking only of higher profits at the expense of the everyday Joe and Jane Worker that started with subprime mortgages and housing bubble crash and ended in a government bailout of the “too big to fail” global financial institutions.  It should be noted that very few (if any) major C-suite executives from the bailed out financial institutions were charged with any crime.  The biggest “punishment” were fines paid by the banks.

Netflix suggested this documentary and it is absolutely amazing to watch.  It’s about Abacus, a small Chinese family-owned Chinatown bank in New York City, serving the unbanked Chinese clientele.  The bank was indicted for fraud in selling mortgages to Fannie Mae as well as falsifying loan documents.  It took the bank 5 years and 10 million dollars to be exonerated of all the charges.  Per the documentary, this bank was the only bank to have been charged for anything related to the 2008 financial crisis.  It’s extremely eye opening to see the human side of the defendants (the bank and the family), the lawyers, and also the jurors in the trial.  It’s definitely worth watching.

Watching this, a couple things stood out about this documentary.

Firstly, it’s a bit shocking though to hear how a juror recounted that another juror “wanted to punish the bank for the 2008 financial crisis” despite the fact that jurors should only be ruling on the merits of the case and not the broader background that the case might be related to.  Fortunately, they did their job and looked at only the merits of the case.

Secondly, and perhaps through the magic of TV editing, the conversations with the District Attorney displayed a sense of hubris.  From the conversations, it felt like the DA really believed that by catching one bad apple they were going to reel in the rest of the bad apples… almost like a mafia type of bust where one person exposes the mafia’s internal misdeeds.

Thirdly, the documentary showed this interesting scene of displaying charged employees were marching down a hallway all chained up to each other.  A journalist had remarked that this would never have been done if it were a black group of employees.  Former prosecutors also remarked that this usually never happened.  And the DA had stated that it wasn’t their decision to “chain them up” in that fashion and was an “unfortunate” event.  Clearly, it was meant to humiliate because the Chinese community would never speak out about such injustice and those in charge knew it. I found it horrific yet sad that Chinese people had to undergo this sort of humiliation.

Lastly, the interactions of the Sung family over dinner and over legal pow-wow phone calls reminds me hilariously of similar Chinese interactions that I’ve experienced too.   The shade the mom throws is hilarious.

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