A Suffolk police detective with a “standout personality” died of colon cancer on Monday after a 31-year career in which he was “instrumental” in bringing MS-13 gang members to justice, his friends and family said.
William Maldonado, 53, helped in the prosecution of more than 40 MS-13 gang members as part of the federal Long Island Gang Task Force, clearing more than a dozen homicides and 25 robberies, Suffolk police said.
He was honored with Cop of the Year in 1990 and last year garnered the Police Commissioner’s Extraordinary Service Award for his leadership skills while battling a life-threatening disease — taking limited sick time despite having been diagnosed in June 2015 after a routine colonoscopy, police said.
“Willie had a larger-than-life personality, which would command a room,” said Det. Michael Soto, Maldonado’s partner throughout most of his career. “People would gravitate toward him to hear his jokes and stories. His motto was ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.’ ”
Maldonado’s work on the gang task force came to an abrupt halt in 2012 when then-Chief of Department James Burke pulled him and the other Suffolk detectives off it, purportedly because they could fight gangs better on the precinct level. Months after Burke resigned in 2015 under the cloud of a federal corruption probe, Maldonado was assigned back onto the task force, just before the current wave of MS-13 violence.
Suffolk police Acting Commissioner Geraldine Hart, who as an FBI agent, supervised the gang task force from 2014 until assuming her current post, described Maldonado as “instrumental” in the fight against the violent MS-13 gang.
“We lost a remarkable detective and a remarkable human being, who served this department with distinction for more than 30 years,” Hart said.
A 1987 recruit, Maldonado worked in the Fifth Precinct before making detective seven years later, spending much of his career in the squad that investigates bank robberies, officials said.
He was sometimes tasked with the tough jobs. In 1992, his bosses assigned him to solve a mystery at a centuries-old, overgrown Patchogue cemetery — the identity of the person buried in an unmarked grave discovered among tall weeds.
“It’s a lot easier asking ‘Who punched you in the bar?’ ” he told Newsday at the time about the difficult mission.
His wife of 17 years, Second Precinct Det. Christine Tamaro, said police work was in his blood, but he lived for his two daughters, Nicole, 23, and Brooke, 19. He was so proud of them, she said, and he saw no need to give them any advice because they were living right.
“His heart and soul belonged to them,” Tamaro said. “No matter what case or anything going on in the world, things came to a screeching halt when it came to his two girls.”
A few days ago, as he lay semiconscious in a hospital room, he let the words of his wife and friends flow over him as they spoke, Tamaro recalled, but he perked up a bit at Nicole’s arrival.
“His daughter came and she says ‘Hi, dad,’ and he’s got a smile,” his wife said.
Tamaro said she was drawn to the “most dynamic” man she had ever met. Maldonado enjoyed life so much that a few people changed the dates of their parties when they found out he couldn’t attend, his wife said.
“His favorite saying was ‘Every day is a party. Every meal is a feast,’ ” she said.
Suffolk police officials praised Maldonado on Tuesday, from his work ethic to his grace as he grappled with a deadly disease.
“He battled cancer with an exceptional dignity and grace that was inspirational and without complaint,” Chief of Department Stuart Cameron said. “His work ethic was extraordinary and his efforts made Suffolk County a safer place. His good humor and smiling face will forever be etched into our memories.”
Maldonado received many honors, including 12 department recognitions, two command recognitions and two Meritorious Awards, police said.
“Willie brought everyone together,” said Third Precinct Insp. Robert Waring, a friend since the pair began working together in 1987 at the Fifth Precinct. “In the end, he had friends from every stage of his life supporting him because he would have been there supporting us.”
Tamaro said she hopes her husband’s death will be a reminder of the importance of early detection.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately released.