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New drink is a mix of business and charity

Posted Aug 23 2008 3:21pm
(See editor's note below).

To Bill Richards , selling coffee in little drink boxes is a lot more fun than drinking 30 to 40 beers a day.

Or getting high on mescaline and angel dust.

Or sleeping under the boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J.

Clean and sober for 11 years (as of 2003), the 44-year-old has put his addictive past behind him. He operates a business in Rochelle Park, N.J. called Charity Beverage that manufactures Loco-Joe, a ready-to-drink coffee. He's also created a network of distributors that sell the product.

But he hasn't forgotten where he came from.

"I'm from the street, and I'm just not into making money that way," said Richards, who has a wife and four children. "The more you give, the more you get back."

Richards is donating 10 percent of the company's profits to charity, and he recently gave $50,000 to shelters for pregnant women. His drink boxes also encourage people to obtain a CD-rom called "The Choice Game," a computer-based program that challenges kids with real life scenarios and influences involving drugs and alcohol, among other things.

This is Richards' "high" nowadays, running his growing business out of an office on Passaic Street in Rochelle Park and giving money to charity. Richards wants to make sure that this pursuit - much like his recovery - sticks. And humility, mixed in with a competitive streak, is what drives him.

Right now, Richards is raising money through Wall Street investors, and he's a relentless salesman. He's always been that way, in fact, going back to when he got sober at Bergen Regional Medical Center, N.J. in Paramus 16 years ago, said Ruben Abreu, director of addiction services at the hospital.

Eight years ago, Richards went back to the streets and sold his product out of his car before he even had a mix for it. "He was selling this stuff before it even existed," said Abreu, who helped him get sober. "I don't know where he gets his energy."

Lately, he's had an uncanny knack of meeting people with money who can help him out. He's even enlisted the help of Stephen Baldwin - the actor who, like Richards, has had problems with chemical addiction - to help promote Loco-Joe.

"He's got a dream, and he's got a vision," said Baldwin, who starred in " The Usual Suspects ." "The only time he'll stop is when he's dead."

But when Richards really thinks about it all, and then thinks about where he came from, he considers it all a miracle. And he's shy about giving himself too much credit.

He was born in Teaneck, N.J., and according to Richards, got "straight Fs" from kindergarten on. "I could roll 300 joints out of an ounce of dope in the eighth grade," he said.

He tried to get sober 10 times, but he always found himself back where he started. Eleven years ago, the birth of his first daughter finally inspired him to clean up.

Abreu, however, said he could sense something about Richards back then that told him he was going to make it big. "He was down and out, but he was in very high spirits," he said. "Despite everything he was going through, he was always saying that everything's going to be OK."

Eventually, he took advantage of personal connections he had with distributorships and beverage companies, which helped him start the company. Richards wasn't ashamed to ask for help then, nor is he afraid now.

Now he just wants to give back. "For me, being in the street, eating out of a garbage can, you have humility," he said. "And you pull through."

This Coping column was originally published in The Record of Bergen County, N.J. on Sept. 15, 2003.

EDITOR'S NOTE:Bill Richards, CEO of Charity Beverage and Loco Joe, was sentenced on January 12, 2007 to 5 years probation for misappropriation of funds; received a $1.5 million judgment for restitution to 40 distributors; and he can never do business in New Jersey again. If he breaks his probation he goes to jail for 10 years.

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