Russian Oil Comes To Florida – Part 1

The Itera/Areti Building in Jacksonville’s Deerwood office park. In 2017, Itera was bought out by the Russian state’s largest oil-producing entity, Rosneft.

In 1991, a married couple from Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan, Russia immigrated to the United States. They left their home on the banks of the Volga River to settle at another river city, Jacksonville, FL.

A few years after arriving, the wife Raisa Frenkel, was the named officer of a corporation, along with Jacksonville resident Theodorus Kavalieros. That business is the Itera International Energy Corporation, a rapidly expanding enterprise that many locals long-viewed as mysterious. During its 20-something year existence, Itera has produced a number of spin-off businesses. Today, it operates from a massive, Gothic style building in the upscale commercial district of Deerwood.

the-kazan-kremlin
The Kazan Kremlin, an historic Russian site on the Volga River, Republic of Tatarstan, Russia

Frenkel and her spouse, Lazar Finker, established themselves at an accelerated pace in Jacksonville. They qualified for expensive mortgages, were involved in property transactions, and created corporate entities years before they were legalized citizens. On a single day in March 1995, they were gifted an expensive home lot in the swank Deercreek Country Club neighborhood, took out a 20-year mortgage, and began making a more permanent home for themselves. The immigrants were financially prosperous. They paid off their $200,000 mortgage in five years’ time. In 1998, seven years after entry, the two became US citizens.

Frenkel and Finker were well-educated emigres. She earned a doctorate in Economics from a university in Kazan; Finker possessed a Ph.D in Education and a Masters degree in Law, also from a Kazan institution. The couple’s public biography states that Finker  created the first community college in Russia. For a time, he was a guest lecturer at the local community college in Jacksonville.

It was not clear what propelled these erudite and apparently English-speaking Russians to leave their home and travel thousands of miles to resettle in Jacksonville. Neither was fleeing political or religious persecution. They came voluntarily. Both had prestigious jobs and were positioned for career advancement in their native Kazan. Years later, Finker said that a temporary job teaching at the college acted as his lure. It is clear that the two were well-prepared for the move and well-received upon arrival. What’s also known is that their native Tatarstan is one of the most industrialized republics in the Russian Federation, making helicopters and trucks, unearthing gypsum and manufacturing chemicals. And, it is oil rich. Over 30 million tons of crude oil is pumped yearly out of the region with one billion tons in reserve.

Kavalieros, the Itera partner of Frenkel, seems to have been a pivotal contact for the couple. An established figure in the city, he was the neighbor of Frenkel and Finker during their first years in the Deercreek Country Club, in addition to acting as business partner. Kavalieros was well-connected. His background included employment as a company executive with Charter Oil. In its heyday, Charter, an oil and gas conglomerate built by Raymond Mason, dominated the Florida landscape as its largest corporate entity. At one time, it reportedly took in $1 million a day from its Bahamas refinery. It had a spot on the Fortune 500 and owned over 180 subsidiaries.

One of the companies purchased by Charter was the New England Petroleum Company (NEPCO). NEPCO was one of the largest privately-owned petroleum companies in the States, serving utility companies along the East Coast. It floundered and then failed in the 1970s after Libya nationalized its oil industry and NEPCO’s oil sources soared to unsustainable levels.

Satisfaction of Mortgage between Theodorus (“Ted”) Kavalieros and the New England Petroleum Company, later purchased by Charter Oil.

Charter, NEPCO and Kavalieros arrive at a nexus in 1991, the year the Kazan couple arrived in Florida. An unearthed satisfaction of mortgage shows the New England Petroleum Company as the mortgage holder on a note with Kavalieros and his wife Aphroditi as mortgagees. The note was recorded in 1985 and quickly paid in six years’ time, similar to their Russian neighbors.  And, as with Raisa Frenkel and Itera International, the property is in the Deerwood area.

Jacksonville was also home to Raymond Mason, who kept a private estate on the banks of the St. Johns River where he hosted US presidents (Ford, Carter) and heads of state (Anwar Sadat). Mason was Big Oil and Big Money in the city of Jacksonville, and during the extended dominance of Charter Oil, he produced a crop of savvy protegees. Like Ted Kavalieros.

The connection to Charter and familiarity with the intricacies of the production and distribution of oil – from all parts of the globe – made Ted Kavalieros a perfect partner for Itera International.

This is where the story of Russian oil in Florida begins.

Part 2: Itera expands and a Russian oil magnate arrives