Walden House chief executive kills himself

Alfonso Acampora, 61, known for leadership in substance addiction treatment programs

Oakland Tribune/March 24, 2003
By Josh Richman

Oakland -- Alfonso P. Acampora, president and CEO of Walden House, one of California's leading addiction treatment programs, killed himself late Saturday or early Sunday at the Claremont Resort & Spa. He was 61.

A life that began on the rough streets of New York City's South Bronx and spanned more than 30 years of helping thousands of people overcome their drug and alcohol addictions ended in a room at the deluxe hotel, where Oakland Police officers found him dead of a single gunshot wound to the head at about 1 a.m. Sunday.

The Alameda County Coroner's Bureau confirmed it received Acampora's body at about 4:30 a.m., and an examination conducted later Sunday found his death to be a suicide.

Other sources said Acampora left an audio tape whose content and intended recipient were unknown Sunday. He also reportedly left a tip for Claremont housekeepers with a note apologizing for the mess. Police reportedly had tracked Acampora to the Claremont by a theft-prevention tracking device in his vehicle after his wife filed a missing-person report on him.

Walden House purchasing director Ed Prieto said he was shocked by the news. "Walden House is like a family. It's a big blow -- it's like losing my dad."

Albert M. Senella, president of the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives, called Acampora "a well-known figure -- he's been a strong leader in the field for many, many years both nationally and locally."

San Francisco-based Walden House is a private nonprofit treatment program founded in 1969 that helps treat more than 4,400 people each day through 17 residential and outpatient facilities in California.

Walden House was criticized in recent months by the San Francisco Health Commission -- through which much of its grant and contract money flows -- for failing to make timely financial reports. Walden House officials said enormous growth in their program, as well as replacement of its accounting system twice within the past two years, had delayed the reports.

The commission also has been pressing Walden House, which has been strapped for cash recently due to government budget cuts, to refinance its debt and reduce its accounts receivable.

Acampora was a teenage gang member and high school dropout who had to overcome his own heroin addiction -- as well as a rap sheet for drug sales, burglary and other offenses -- before moving to California and joining the staff of the newly created Delancey Street drug rehabilitation program in the late 1960s.

He joined Walden House in 1971 and worked his way to the top, where he administered its $50 million annual budget and oversaw its daily operations. Walden House's 2001 tax returns show Acampora's salary that year was $188,123 plus benefits.

Most of Walden House's revenue comes from local, state and federal government grants, and it works closely with many government agencies on projects such as welfare-to-work and drug treatment services for people in, or on parole from, county jails and state prisons.

Acampora was also serving on the World Federation of Therapeutic Communities' executive council and was a co-chairman of its International Organizing Committee. In 1998 he received the organization's Harry Scholl Award for outstanding leadership in advancing therapeutic community goals over more than a dozen years.

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