Wednesday, May 01, 2024

Priest stole from a Chester County parish and spent $40K on Candy Crush, other mobile games, police say

Fr. Lawrence Kozak Charged With Theft Of Church Funds: PSP

A Catholic priest in Pottstown improperly used a parish credit card to fund his addiction to such cell phone games as Candy Crush and Mario Kart, racking up more than $40,000 in expenses over the course of three years, according to prosecutors in Chester County.

The Rev. Lawrence Kozak, 51, was charged Thursday with theft and related crimes, according to the affidavit of probable cause for his arrest. He was released after posting $250,000 bail.

His attorney, Joseph Poluka, said he was reviewing the charges and planned to contact prosecutors about the case in the coming days.

Kozak was removed from his position at St. Thomas More Church in Pottstown and placed on administrative leave in November 2022, according to Ken Gavin, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia

That decision was made, Gavin said, after an investigation into the priest’s spending by the archdiocese’s Office of Parish Services and Support.

Investigators said an accountant working for St. Thomas More discovered “an astronomical amount of Apple transactions” on credit card statements for the church while reviewing their finances in 2022. 

The purchases began in September 2019, not long after Kozak joined the parish, and ended in July 2022, they said. The Apple ID used to make those purchases was registered to Kozak.

Detectives continued to probe those financial records, and found that an Amazon account belonging to Kozak had used the parish credit card to buy a backpack, Amazon Fire tablet, and children’s chemistry set, all of which were sent to an address in Bensalem, where Kozak’s goddaughter lives, the affidavit said. The packages included a note signed by “Uncle Larry.”

Other financial records showed that Kozak had used his personal bank account to pay $10,000 of the balance on the parish credit card, the affidavit said.

When interviewed by detectives in 2022, Kozak said he was seeking counseling for his addiction to playing and spending money on online games, according to the affidavit. He said the money was not spent on gambling, but rather to “power up” — gain an advantage in the games he was playing.

St. Thomas More’s business manager told investigators she believed Kozak knew the parish card was being used for his gaming habit. She said she had previously asked the priest about unexplained credit card purchases on the account’s statements and had warned him about the dangers of mixing business and personal expenses.

In those warnings, she said, she made specific reference to Msgr. Joseph McLoone, an archdiocesan priest who was sentenced to five years of probation in 2021 after pleading guilty to embezzling money from St. Joseph Parish in Downingtown. McLoone admitted to using the money to augment his salary, fund vacations to the Jersey Shore, and finance his secret romances.

Catholics4Change, an advocacy group that pushes for accountability for priests accused of sex abuse and other crimes, have been working with some parishioners at St. Thomas More since 2022, when the allegations against Kozak first were revealed, according to Kathy Kane, the group’s co-founder.

“It’s been a difficult time at that parish, and this is a crime that needs to be prosecuted,” Kane said. “It’s good that it’s in the hands of the court and not just the archdiocese.”