MELVILLE, N.Y. -- The co-owner and two employees of a Long Island animal cemetery were under arrest Tuesday for promising to cremate dead pets and then dumping the animals into pits and leaving them to decompose, authorities said.
Another co-owner was being sought in Florida, officials said.
James Fox, Assistant FBI Director in charge of the New York office, estimated the cemetery owners may have made 'tens of millions of dollars' since 1984 by tossing as many as a quarter of a million cats and dogs into the mass graves.
Fox said the Long Island Pet Cemetery, in Middle Island, charged a cremation fee of between $100 and $500, 'depending on the size of the animal,' and that in some cases the fee was higher.
Fox said that after being tipped off by former employees, he visited the site and 'there was a black substance oozing from the ground' which he said came from decayed animal carcasses.
'There are rats there as large as possums,' he added.
In cases where bereaved pet owners requested that ashes be returned, 'there were mass cremations in the ovens and any available ashes were then sent back to the owners,' Fox said.
One of the fraud victims, David Pokress, of Farmingdale, said he was 'shocked and outraged' when he learned that the ashes he received were probably not those of his pedigree English sheepdog, 'Kodak,' who died in March 1990.
'What I really feel, you couldn't print,' he said, adding that he paid $250 for the cremation.
Fox said the cemetery accepted up to 300 animals a day for cremation when the ovens were only capable of handling 50 pets a day.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Maloney said it was 'a particularly cruel hoax perpetrated on thousands of pet owners.'
Suffolk County District Attorney James Catterson said bulldozers began Tuesday morning to unearth soil samples to be used as evidence.
Under arrest are co-owner Alan Strauss, 35, and two employees.
A fourth man being sought was Strauss's father, Samuel, 70, of Boca Raton, Fla., also a co-o p