The F.B.I. announced charges last week against 73 Armenian gangsters, almost half of them in the Los Angeles area, for running the largest Medicare fraud in history.
Or—to be strictly accurate—the largest the FBI yet knows about.
The indictment alleged that most of the defendants were "were Armenian nationals or immigrants and many maintained substantial ties to Armenia" and criminal gangs there. They laundered their ill-gotten gains in Las Vegas casinos and/or couriered them back to Armenia.
Michael J. Gaeta, head of the New York F.B.I. office's Russian Organized Crime Squad, explained: "New York and the U.S., to them it's a big pot of gold, and they're coming after it. And with the world getting smaller, it's much easier for them to do it."[Real Patients, Real Doctors, Fake Everything Else, By Michael Wilson And William K. Rashbaum, New York Times, October 13, 2010]
Among the arrested: Armen Kazarian of the pleasant LA suburb of Glendale, who drives a $350,000 Rolls Royce Phantom. Kazarian is only the second "vor" (the ex-Soviet equivalent of a godfather) yet charged in the U.S. [Fraud suspect appears in court - Glendale News Press, By Veronica Rocha, October 16, 2010]
I'd never previously heard the term "vor" but I have to say it has a ring to it—like capo di tutti capo or Keyser Söze.
Why was Kazarian in this country in the first place? He was granted asylum in the U.S. in 1996. But (as is not unusual for the beneficiaries of U.S. asylum and refugee programs) he subsequently returned frequently to Armenia to oversee his transcontinental criminal doings.
Naturally, this got me thinking about TV crime dramas.
Law & Order has been the most successful drama in American television history. Counting its countless spinoffs, about 900 hour-long episodes have aired. L&O's two-decade old formula has been to take a scandal from the news, add a murder, and then show that the richest, whitest, and most conservative character dunnit.
This year, however, NBC shut down the New York-based flagship show and substituted Law & Order: Los Angeles.
LA has been America's City of the Future for my whole life. (I'm a native Angeleno). But Americans seem to have been slowly getting bored with their future. Thus, in the three episodes aired so far, the ripped-from-the-headlines stories have not exactly been representative of modern LA.
Granted, we had one loosely modeled on the travails of Lindsay Lohan, which are tedious but at least contemporary. But then we've had an episode about a vicious gang of rich surfers, and another another modeled on the Manson Family.
The Manson Family? What can we look forward to next in the rewritten annals of LA crime lore? A famous white football star who decapitates his black wife?
Actually, it's going to be even more self-parodic than that. The Wednesday, October 20 episode "Sylmar" will explore the national security threat posed by...blue-eyed, blonde Americans who espouse extremist Islam:
Deputy District Attorney: "An All-American jihadi terrorist cell …"
Assistant District Attorney: "With enough explosives to take down the Staples Center!"
See—you can't make this stuff up. (Or at least I can't.)
As I've pointed out before, Dick Wolf's genius is to make Law & Order an irony-free version of Tom Wolfe's 1987 Bonfire of the Vanities, his novel about the hunt for the Great White Defendant. In Wolfe's telling, the prosecutors feel so bored and depressed about that fact that they spend their days putting black and Hispanic screw-ups behind bars that they leap at the chance to charge snobby bond trader Sherman McCoy with homicide.
In the Law & Order universe, however, the Sherman McCoy-types aren't the exceptions that prove the rule. They are the rule.
This makes perfect TV sense because disorganized crime is usually just plain depressing. In contrast, organized crime comes with enough rules and rituals to make it compelling viewing.
Let me illustrate this distinction using two real life examples.
Twice this year while driving down Riverside Drive in the southeast San Fernando Valley, I've been stopped because the street has been blocked off by homicide investigators.
The first Riverside Drive traffic jam I ran into was when four Armenians were gunned down by an Armenian AK-47 dealer at a private party at an Armenian-owned restaurant. (My father told me that the one time he had lunch there, he was the only customer, yet there was a constant flow of deliverymen in and out of the restaurant. I like to imagine the joint was some kind of front operation.)
This slaughter was likely just as idiotic as the typical street crime. But a screenwriter could easily invest it with a certain Godfatherish glamour, with the killer vanishing in a white BMW with a squeal of low profile tires.
In VDARE.com back on February 7, 2010, before this restaurant bloodbath, I counted up all the Los Angeles County 15 to 29-year-old male homicide victims since 2006. There were a total of 47 whites, out of which 14 were West Asians, and nine of those were Armenians. Those aren't huge numbers, but they are certainly disproportionate to their share of the white population in LA County.
Armenians, a West Asian Christian nation, had been one of the success stories of immigration policy, with pre-1924 immigrants assimilating nicely into California's middle class.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, the results have been more mixed. The new arrivals from Armenia have generally continued to prosper. Not being eligible for affirmative action, their political leanings have been moderate. Yet growing up in the Soviet gangster state seems to have inculcated gangster values in some of them.
In contrast, the second Riverside Drive killing I ran into was more typical of urban crime and thus—at least superficially—untelegenic.
From NBC News in LA on October 13, 2010:
"Omar Armando Loera, 34, was turned over to Los Angeles police Tuesday night, hours after being arrested in the border town of Mexicali by Mexican authorities working with members of the U.S. Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force.
"Loera was charged Sept. 15 with the July 24 [home invasion] slaying of Cheree Osmanhodzic, 34, who had returned to her home in the 11500 block of Riverside Drive after shopping for a wedding dress with her mother and fiancé."
Obviously, the wedding dress shopping trip is a poignant touch. But from the point of view of a hard-working Law & Order writer, the problem with ripping this story from the headlines is that the home invader was named Omar.
That's the kind of name you actually hear every night here on the police blotter news. Omar could be Latino criminal, a black gunman, or a Muslim terrorist. It's practically a dog-bites-man story: Omar-kills-woman.
L&O isn't going to make it into an episode.
Another problem for Hollywood: although organized crime plays better onscreen than disorganized crime, the Italian mafia, which has been anyway fading in strength since the 1980s, has been done to death in movies and television.
However, this Medicare scandal offers an example of a demographic trend in Southern California crime that could prove the germ of entertaining television—if L&O: LA only had the wit to notice it: Increasingly, the more interesting sort of criminals in LA are from places once ruled by the Ottoman, Soviet, or Persian empires. But this trend would involve noticing immigrants, which isn't in good taste. So my guess is that L&O: LA won't have the wit (or integrity) to notice it.
As it happens, there is a hint of this little noticed 21st Century LA demographic trend in the name of Omar's victim: Cheree Cameron-Ozmanhodzic.
What kind of name is Ozmanhodzic—which, because the victim's father's surname is Cameron, I presume was that of a first husband?
Sultan Osman I was the founder of the Ottoman Empire, so the surname Osman is found throughout the Muslim world. Hodži appears to be a Bosnian Muslim surname from the Balkans. Combining the two names into one surname is relatively rare, but the best known Osmanhodzic is likely Adnan Osmanhodzic, a Bosnian soccer player formerly with FK Sarajevo.
That's a lot of detail. But my larger point is that, until quite recently, a name like Osmanhodzic was very exotic in Southern California.
However, over the last couple of decades, because of post 1965 federal immigration policy, there been a sizable amount of immigration into the Los Angeles area from this huge region once ruled by the Ottoman, Soviet, or Persian empires—a vast yet contiguous expanse for which we don't have a name. You could call it the Caucasian East, because it's centered around the Caucasus Mountains. The kind of people I see at stores near where these homicides took place look like a mix of the people I've seen on trips to Istanbul and Moscow. I'll call it the Land of the Defunct Empires: Ottoman, Persian, and Soviet.
This influx has largely gone unremarked because the immigrants are technically Caucasian so they don't show up in the main diversity statistics. Moreover, the newcomers are seldom terribly poor. And they are generally not illegal immigrants, most using the family reunification or refugee loopholes.
Nevertheless, they illustrate some of the long-term cultural issues raised by immigration—even legal immigration.
Among the immigrants from the Land of the Defunct Empires, Armenians make up an increasingly small fraction. Yet they remain the most prototypical—perhaps because they come from a small nation uneasily perched amidst the Turks, Russians, and Iranians. Moreover, other peoples from this region tend to assume—even if they traditionally don't like Armenians—that Armenians are clever and worth emulating.
(The growth of the number of Turks in Armenian neighborhoods of LA is rather like how in the 1970s when Persian Gulf Arabs suddenly got rich from rising oil prices, sheiks immediately bought houses in Beverly Hills next door to Jewish movie moguls.)
The Defunct Empires immigrants aren't from any single religious background. Some are Muslim, but generally from the more secular sectors of Islamic cultures. (I've only seen one woman in full burka in LA.) This new class of immigrant is generally not sprung from peasant stock in the old country. Instead, they tend to hale from middleman minorities, differentiated from the masses by religion, ethnicity, or class.
The main cultural common denominator found among the immigrants from the Land of Defunct Empires: a pervasive cynicism about whom you can trust outside your own extended family. These are not cultures of strong civic engagement and broad volunteerism.
In the Little Armenia section of the San Fernando Valley, for example, homeowners compete to erect in their front yards the most frightening looking security fences, complete with ostentatiously lethal finials to impale anybody trying to climb over. To an average American used to open front lawns, this looks unneighborly. But to somebody recently arrived from the ex-Soviet Union, it looks cool.
When the first immigrants from the Land of (not yet) Defunct Empires arrived in California over a century ago, American self-confidence encouraged them to assimilate toward America's high trust civic norms.
But today, as illustrated by Law & Order, the American ruling class lacks the cultural confidence to demand assimilation from immigrants.
This presents us with a paradox. Maybe Americans do indeed now have more to learn from immigrants from the Land of Defunct Empires about the necessities for self-preservation. They've been around a lot longer than us.
They believe in prudence and skepticism about other peoples.
If we don't learn a little prudence and skepticism from them, about them and immigrants in general, they may well outlast us too.
[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]