Business Week Questions Why Prosecutors Are Going After Chinatown’s Abacus Bank

Abacus Bank, 6 Bowery. Photo by Robert K. Chin.

Business Week has filed a lengthy piece on Abacus Federal Savings Bank, the Chinatown-based institution that is the target of a very rare mortgage fraud prosecution.   Last spring, The bank and 19 former employees were charged with mortgage fraud and other offenses, in connection with the falsification of Fannie Mae loan documents.   The Business Week story, titled “Mortgage Fraud Prosecutors Pounce on a Small Bank,” suggests that the decision by the New York City District Attorney to go after Abacus is, at least, curious and possibly misguided.

The report notes that Abacus, a fixture in Chinatown since the mid-80′s, has not lost business as a result of the prosecution, but has not picked up many new customers, either.  The indictments, Business Week says, could eventually force Abacus out of business.  The story features interviews with the bank’s founder, Thomas Sung, and his daughters Jill and Vera.  They have not been personally indicted.

Chinatown Bank Charged With Mortgage Fraud; Owner is Prominent LES Property Owner

Abacus Federal Savings Bank, 6 Bowery.

Very few banks nationwide have been prosecuted as a result of the 2008 mortgage crisis that sent the American economy into a tailspin. Yesterday, however, New York City District Attorney Cy Vance came down hard on Chinatown-based Abacus Federal Savings Bank, headquartered at 6 Bowery.

The bank and 19 former employees were charged with mortgage fraud and other offenses, in connection with the falsification of Fannie Mae loan documents.   The bank, prosecutors alleged, made millions of dollars by making loan applicants seem to be credit-worthy when they really weren’t.

The DA first became aware of the situation at Abacus in 2009, after a bank customer went to the 5th Precinct claiming that the institution had stolen her deposit.  Vance said borrowers are continuing to pay almost all of the loans.  The bank is not believed to be at risk and borrowers have no reason for concern about their accounts, prosecutors said.

Old School at 371 Madison Becomes Luxury Condo Building

371 Madison Street. Photo: Prudential Douglas Elliman.

Here’s a story that tells you a lot about both the old and the new Lower East Side. In today’s Wall Street Journal, Chinatown banker and developer Thomas Sung details plans for luxury condos at 371 Madison Street, the gorgeous former public school building he bought at auction in 1983.

According to the story, the five story Renaissance revival building, constructed in 1908, has become a condo conversion with 110 “loft-like” apartments, a swimming pool, a spa and a “juice bar with room service.” Some of the smaller units on low floors start at $542,000.  Larger apartments will cost millions.  Ultimately, Mr. Sung intends to “turn some small rooftop penthouses, where the school’s basketball courts were, into a single, 7,000-square-foot penthouse with a 12,000-square-foot yard.”

Update: Loew’s Canal Street Theatre’s Future

The section of the theater that fronts on Canal Street was landmarked in 2010.

In 2009 and 2010, there was a flurry of activity around the historic Loew’s Canal Street Theatre: the 1926-27 facade at 31 Canal Street was nominated for landmark status; the owners submitted plans to construct apartments above the massive existing structure along Ludlow Street; and a community group proposed reviving the long-vacant building as a cultural and performing arts center.

The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission permanently protected the Canal Street portion of the building in September 2010. (Read the LPC’s research report, which includes historic photos, here.) But on the other fronts, there’s been no news for over a year. Given some recent chatter on the Cinema Treasures blog and a few of our tipsters noting workers around the theater, we decided to check in on its current status.

Owner of Loews Canal Theater Discusses Plans

Earlier this week, we spoke with Chinatown banker Thomas Sung, the owner of the Loews Canal Theater (31 Canal Street),  about his plans for the recently-landmarked building. Last year, Sung and CREATE, an arts organization in Chinatown, announced they were looking into the possibility of turning the long-shuttered theater into a Chinese cultural center.

After testifying before the Landmarks Preservation Commission in June, Sung told us a structural engineer had just finished evaluating the feasibility of building a 12 or 13 story residential tower over the 1920′s-era movie palace. In a phone conversation on Tuesday, he summed up the results of that study and talked about what’s next in the planning process.

Since the theater is a large open space with no columns, Sung said, the high rise would need to be supported by, perhaps, 10 large steel beams around the perimeter of the original building. It would be a complex engineering feat, he believes, and an expensive proposition.  There’s also the question of stability: engineers would, of course, want to be absolutely certain the structure could support the new building and not endanger the historic theater below.

Good Morning: NYPD Skips “Stop & Frisk” Hearing, Bike Lane Protest Planned, the Post Profiles “Killjoy” Zella Jones

We get a little break from the storms today. 75 degrees and partly sunny, but the rain comes back late this evening. 

What’s Next for the Loew’s Canal Theater?

More now on the future of the Loews Canal Theater (31 Canal), which was partially protected by the Landmarks Preservation Commission earlier this month.  The decision was a big victory for preservation activists, who would love to see the shuttered 1927 building reopened as some kind of public performance space.

Last night, I spoke briefly with Amy Chin, head of “CREATE in Chinatown,” a group that hoped to turn the theater into a Chinese cultural center.  Last year, her organization and Loews Canal owner Thomas Sung released a statement saying an architect had been hired to study the idea.

Owner of Loew’s Canal Theater: Supports Preservation, Assessing Economic Impact of Community Space

There’s been a lot of speculation in the last several months about the fate of the Loew’s Canal Theater. This morning, at a hearing of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, we learned a bit more about the intentions of the owner, Chinatown developer Thomas Sung.

As we have been reporting, an arts coalition wanted to transform the shuttered space into a Chinese cultural center. At the same time, the Commission has been moving to protect the Canal Street facade. Sung came to today’s hearing, testifying that he’s trying to balance preservation, community needs and financial viability: