Coming in September on FRONTLINE

September 1, 2017
by Patrice Taddonio Assistant Director of Audience Development

Vera, Jill and Thomas Sung (left to right), who own and operate Abacus Federal Savings Bank. (Photo by Sean Lyness) (Sean Lyness)

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the biggest banks on Wall Street all avoided prosecution for fraud related to the sale of bad mortgages — as did their CEOs.

But one bank based in New York City was indicted by the district attorney’s office: Abacus Federal Savings — a family-run bank in Chinatown serving an immigrant population.

Why was Abacus — the 2,651st largest bank in the United States at the time of its trial — the only U.S. bank to be prosecuted in relation to the financial collapse, and the first bank to be indicted in New York since 1991?

This story unfolds on FRONTLINE September 12 in the national broadcast premiere of Abacus: Small Enough to Jail — the newest film from acclaimed documentary director Steve James (Hoop Dreams), who last worked with FRONTLINE in 2012 on the Emmy Award-winning documentary, The Interrupters.

In riveting detail, the film examines the case against the bank, hearing from prosecutors, jurors, defense lawyers, and the bank’s founder, Thomas Sung, his wife Hwei Lin, and their daughters, who James filmed over a year as they fought to clear their names.

Fresh off a robust international film festival run and national theatrical release, Abacus is a dramatic, 90-minute documentary that The New York Times called “a classic underdog tale,” and The Hollywood Reporter called “both an affirmation and an indictment of the American Dream.”

Also in September: As the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, FRONTLINE will air an encore presentation of The Man Who Knew — the remarkable story of John P. O’Neill, the FBI’s counterterrorism expert who had warned of Al Qaeda’s threat to the United States long before 9/11.

And, stay tuned for a special announcement in the coming days about something new from FRONTLINE.

Here’s a closer look at our September lineup:

September 5: The Man Who Knew

When the Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001, among the thousands killed was the one man who may have known more about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda than any other person in America: John O’Neill. For 10 years, O’Neill had been the FBI’s leading expert on Al Qaeda. He warned of its reach. He warned of its threat to the U.S. But for some at FBI headquarters, O’Neill was too much of a maverick. In the end, he was forced out of the job he loved and entered the private sector – as director of security for the World Trade Center. His story unfolds in The Man Who Knew, filmmaker Michael Kirk’s classic and deeply haunting FRONTLINE documentary from 2002.

September 12: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

The little-known story of the only U.S. bank prosecuted in relation to the 2008 financial crisis.


Check your local PBS listings for air times.

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