SALEM — A 48-year-old former police officer, who colleagues said was responsible for keeping millions of dollars in drugs off the street, collapsed and died Wednesday night.
Mark Sambataro, who worked for the Salem Police Department from 1985 to 2007, suffered a heart attack at his Salem home and died shortly after being taken to Caritas Holy Family Hospital in Methuen, Mass.
Friends and former co-workers remembered him yesterday for his gifted police work and dedication to his family. He leaves behind a wife, Monica, and two children.
"He is going to be missed," said Salem police Chief Paul Donovan, who noted that Sambataro led numerous drug busts during his career, putting many criminals behind bars. "The only thing he loved more than police work was his family."
Along with being a police officer, he enjoyed bodybuilding, fishing and cooking but was a family man above all, said Rich Oliveri, his business partner in the private investigation firm they started after Sambataro left the department a year ago.
Salem police Capt. Billy Teubert had known Sambataro since they were both teenagers. Teubert said he was astonished at how much Sambataro was able to achieve single-handedly.
"He put a lot of bad people away, he was a one-man show," Teubert said. "He would work 80 hours a week — there was no one who could keep up with him."
Sambataro was always thorough in his work, but equally dedicated to his friends and family, defense attorney Donald Blaszka said.
Blaszka, who met Sambataro as a prosecutor in 2000, recalled when his wife gave birth and Sambataro drove to their home to personally give them a gift.
"Not only was he a great co-worker, he was a great friend."
Donovan, who knew Sambataro for seven years, said he had an exceptional ability to infiltrate drug rings as an undercover officer and "con" drug dealers. "He was one of the most natural narcotics officers I ever met," the police chief said.