Caveat emptor

Today’s cautionary tale concerns the Ukranian-Russian composer Vladimir Shainsky, who moved from Russia to California in 2006, and, according to a lawsuit, promptly became the victim of a real-estate swindle.

It all started when an Armenian woman, a stranger, claimed to recognize the composer in a mall in Carmel Valley. She and her husband befriended him, her husband saying he was the son of a KGB vice minister, all to curry favor with Shainskiy to the point that he unwittingly surrendered control of his finances to the husband and a web of associates, his attorneys say.

At the end, Shainskiy, who’d never had a mortgage in his life, was left holding $1.2 million in mortgage debt in late 2007. He faced unaffordable loan payments on not only the condo he’d previously owned outright but also a house in Santaluz, a North County subdivision, sold to him by the man’s son at an inflated price. His bank accounts had been tapped; his mental state was in shambles.

The suit claims that Angelika and George Vartan convinced the octogenarian Shainsky to take out a mortgage on his condominium to finance a down payment on a house being offered by the Vartans’ son, broker Michael Vartani—without disclosing that the house in question was owned by their other son, Michael’s twin brother Andrew. The group allegedly took advantage of Shainsky’s age and poor English, and even went so far as to forge signatures and documents in order to secure the mortgages in Shainsky’s name. The defendants’ attorneys deny all the charges, but a settlement is currently being negotiated, and Shainsky and his wife are now back in their condo.

All this is as good an excuse as any to spotlight one of Shainsky’s best-loved works, his score to the thoroughly awesome 1971 animated film Чебурашка (Cheburashka), directed by Roman Kachanov. The tune sung by Krokodil Gena at the beginning is a certified standard in the former Soviet Union, eliciting a Proustian response among Russophones of a certain generation similar to, say, Schoolhouse Rock songs in the United States.

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