WHAT DO THEY DO IN THE WEST?
They started migrating to the West in the late 1980s and soon became feared enemies of ‘‘traditional’’ criminal groups such as Italian and Colombian gangs. They smuggled Iraqi oil and pulled off scams such as the 2011 Medicare fraud by ethnic Armenian ‘‘crowned thieves’’ in California who used phantom health care clinics to try to cheat Medicare out of $163 million. They also dabbled in racketeering, drug smuggling, money laundering, human trafficking and prostitution. ‘‘Eastern Promises,’’ a 2007 criminal drama by David Cronenberg, depicts human trafficking schemes by Russian ‘‘crowned thieves’’ in Britain.
WHAT WAS THEIR INFLUENCE ON AVERAGE RUSSIANS?
In the Soviet era, street hoodlums romanticized them as the dark princes of the criminal underworld. Hundreds of folk songs about the hardships that jailbirds face on the inside and outside have evolved into a whole genre of popular Russian music known as shanson — torch-songs about unhappy cons, their mothers and sweethearts based on simple chord changes and old-fashioned electronic loops. Radio Shanson is one of the most popular stations in the country, and many cabbies drive their passengers crazy by playing it non-stop.