The last six months must have been great fun for the keepers of Soviet morals and their more practical helpmates, the police.
Suddenly, all those stories of crime and wrong-doing that habitually are kept hush-hush in the Soviet Union were being printed up in the press and criminals brought to trial, with each trial leading to the discovery of new evidence.
Many of the trails seemed to lead to the top -- to the ruling Communist Party hierarchy and even to the family of President Leonid Brezhnev.
The delight was only slightly dampened, one imagines, by the fact that quite a number of the guilty were themselves guardians of public morals and police.
But the game is beginning to wear a bit thin. These are no longer the heady days of February, when scandal topped scandal and it seemed the breath of it alone might topple the government (even the concept is revolutionary). Now the guilty have been caught and dealt with, and investigators have closed up their files and put them on shelves to gather dust.
Or have they? Skeptics say only the tip of the iceberg has been melted and that the brief flash of publicity merely exposed to what depths and heights crime has penetrated Soviet society.
A spectacular story of smuggling, payoffs, and corruption was recently chronicled in the government newspaper Izvestia. It was both titillating and revealing: In the Soviet Union, as elsewhere, it seems, criminals come from all walks of life and all economic classes, drawn by the glamour and the gain.
Albina Stokau nee Kuznetzova was born in Tomsk but married to a foreigner. Her foreign passport allowed her to travel freely, and from June 1974 until her arrest in 1976, she smuggled 10 icons, old silver, crystal, church crosses, and other items including a ''large amount of black caviar,'' Izvestia reported.
The arrest was only a hiatus in her career. Released at the end of 1978, she was up to her old tricks again by 1979, when she fell in love with a Soviet who became her business partner. They and their colleagues were trapped in January 1981, but only after Mrs. Stokau became so confident that on one trip to Paris with a Gobelin tapestry, she returned with the same tapestry because Parisian dealers would not offer enough money.
Izvestia also chronicled the adventures of a Tbilisi-based ring known as ''Katzobashvili and son'' who smuggled via the Moscow-Vienna train. The son had emigrated, and the father organized things on the home front.
In both instances, the criminals would have been nowhere without help -- from customs agents in one case and trainworkers in the other.
Soviet customs agents, particularly those at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, where Mrs. Stokau traveled from, are perceived as the final line of defense of Soviet law. They take brooches from emigrating Jews and confiscate small drawings from journalists. They reclaim from tourists tiny, modernistic icon-type pictures as national treasures that cannot be removed from the country.
Izvestia detailed how this line of defense was breached not once but twice by Mrs. Stokau within five years, using bribes such as an Italian men's suit. Mrs. Stokau was no example of disadvantaged youth. The pampered, prettiest daughter of educated parents, she has a university education.
She decided, the newspaper said, that she did not want to spend her life washing test tubes. Communist doctrine teaches that proper education will produce citizens with a correct sense of social duty and responsibility. Clearly , the doctrine did not fully factor in human greed.
That Soviet authorities are coming to terms with this can be seen in their crackdown on criminals of all sorts, from paltry traders in jeans to internationally active diamond smugglers. In February, circus director Anatoly Kolevatov and an artist known as ''Boris the Gypsy'' Buryatia, said to be close friends of Mr. Brezhnev's daughter, Galina, were unofficially reported to have been arrested and presumably sentenced for diamond smuggling. The case was never publicized here.
In May, Deputy Minister of Culture Nikolai Mokhov was reported in the press to have retired. He was widely thought to have helped Boris and Kolevatov.
In April, Vladimir Rytov, a former deputy minister of the Fishing Industry, was officially said to have been executed. He was a ringleader in a 1978 scandal in which caviar was packaged as smoked herring, shipped abroad, and sold for millions.
In April, the government announced tough penalties for workers caught cheating on trade and services. A rip-off taxi driver got a two-year suspended sentence. A woman was sent to labor camp for a year for diverting food from the store where she worked. A doctor treating private patients before state ones got four years.