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Flushing branch outlasts panicked run on reserves

A Flushing bank branch that caters to Chinese immigrants has survived a dramatic run on its reserves triggered by the firing of one of its managers at its headquarters in Chinatown, the manager said this week.

For two days last week, thousands of patrons at Abacus Federal Savings Bank's six branches rushed to the locations to withdraw their money after the community bank printed an announcement describing the bank's reasons for firing Carol John Mee Lim, a manager at the Chinatown headquarters, in the Chinese-language newspaper the World Journal.

In the announcement, Abacus said federal authorities were investigating Lim, who has since been formerly charged with stealing from accounts at the bank.

Starting on April 22, crowds of worried customers, almost all of whom are Chinese immigrants, flooded the Abacus branch in Flushing as well as the other branches as they sought to remove money from their accounts. The patrons feared the bank would collapse.

"That day I was kind of caught off guard," said David Lee, the manager of the Flushing branch at 36-30 Main St. "But we are glad everything is over. It's been very calm since last Thursday. All my customers now understand what the FDIC is all about and understand our bank is very solid."

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., a federal agency, insures deposits at Abacus and other retail banks across the country of up to $100,000.

On Friday, Manhattan U.S. Attorney James Comey charged Lim with embezzling at least $1 million from Abacus since 1999.

Lim, a resident of Brooklyn, was declared a fugitive and still was being sought by authorities as of press time.

Over the course of the panic, patrons withdrew at least $30 million from the bank, its president, Thomas Sung, told Newsday.

Sung could not be reached for comment.

But since, some customers have come back to the institution, Lee said.

"Starting Sunday, some of them returned," he said. "They obviously realized (the bank's closing) was just a rumor."

By Monday, the only sign of the scare was police barriers standing at the edge of the sidewalk in front of the Flushing branch.

Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who tried to calm the crowd last week, said the hysteria was based on a basic misunderstanding of the nation's banking system.

The Flushing location, which has been open for about 2 1/2 years, is the newest Abacus branch, Lee said. The bank was established in Chinatown about 20 years ago.

When asked if there was a chance the bank could close, Lee responded, "No way."

"Our bank is one of the strongest Chinese community banks in New York City," he said.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.

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