What to Know
- Pet owners said they were charged for burials, cremations and maintenance after Abbingdon Hill Cemetery lost its license last year
- Abbingdon Hill's longtime caretaker said the cemetery was no longer “technically” operating and denied doing any burials
- The state Attorney General’s office, meanwhile, has launched an investigation
Paul Newman buried his dog Chips in his family's pet plot at Abbingdon Hill Cemetery in August.
Receipts showed the Monroe, New York, man paid $797.97 for a burial container for grave costs and was signed by the Crawford pet cemetery's longtime caretaker, Raymond Fodera.
But by the time he had made the payment, Abbingdon Hill had been sold at a tax sale and had lost its license to operate as a pet cemetery.
Newman's story isn't unique: documentation provided by several pet owners revealed that Fodera charged for burials, cremations, maintenance costs and grave decorations after the cemetery lost its license. It's a situation that Newman and others told the I-Team has them worried and upset about their pets remains in what they hoped would be a pristine and untouched resting place.
"I look at that as deceit and fraud," Newman said.
The cemetery office is now closed and the phone disconnected. Several pet owners told the I-Team they have been frustrated for months trying to get answers about the future of the cemetery.
Fodera did not return several phone calls and messages left by the I-Team. But when located in a gas station parking lot, he said the cemetery was no longer "technically" operating and denied doing any burials.
He also said he didn’t remember if he had done any cremations in the past few months and added he had not been in touch with the buyer of the property, identified as New York businessman Ahmad Reyaz.
Documents show Reyaz bought up nearly two dozen parcels in Orange County over a two-day period in a tax sale last April for $713,000. Reyaz, who told the I-Team he did not know the property was a pet cemetery when he bought it for $120,000, declined to speak about his plans for the 15.5 acre parcel.
Fodera said even though he no longer has a role in the business, he believes he has a "moral" obligation to maintain the property, adding he does not feel he is doing anything improper or illegal by taking fees from pet owners. He said he plans to mow the lawn in the spring.
Rita Levine, who has eight pets buried at the cemetery, said the property has been neglected and is falling into ruin.
"The leaves are rotting and the stones are blackened," Levine said.
She added, "We had no idea the cemetery was sold and that the license had lapsed."
The state Attorney General’s Office, meanwhile, has launched an investigation. A law enforcement source told the I-Team that as part of the probe, subpoenas have been served on the current and prior owners.
Lisa Cesareo and her mother, Marilyn Jarrett, of Belleville, New Jersey, started burying their pets in Abbingdon Hill 25 years ago. The family has two dogs in storage at Abbingdon Hill awaiting a spring burial and have tried unsuccessfully for months to reach Fodera.
"Where are they?" She said, tearfully. "Are our animals unfrozen?”
She added, "I’m sick over this."
Cellphone video revealed that the building where the crematorium and freezer are located is completely unsecured.
The Abbingdon Hill sign at the entrance of the cemetery has now been removed.
State law states that cemeteries cannot be rezoned for another use without permission of the local court and written consent of pet owners. That information is doing little to calm owners’ fears.
"These are like our children to us," Newman said. "I don’t even know if we’re able legally to visit the gravesites."