Priest accused by cops of spending over $40,000 of church funds on Candy Crush and Pokémon Go, says it might have happened because he's not a 'details guy'

A faceless shot of a priest with his hands clasped, holding a rosary.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

In what's becoming something of a running theme for PCG's news coverage this week, a Catholic priest in Pottstown, Pennsylvania has been accused by police of dropping over $40,000 of the Church's money on mobile games. Namely, Candy Crush, Mario Kart Tour, Pokémon Go, various slot machine and hidden object games, and Cash Frenzy.

As reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer (via Kotaku), the Reverend Lawrence Kozak was charged by PA cops of using a credit card tied to Saint Thomas More Parish to spend $41,879.83 on addictive games over several years. Per the police affidavit, incongruous purchases on the church's credit card stretch back to 2019, and the situation was first brought to police attention by church officials in 2022.

At that time, Kozak was brought in for a chat with police in which he told investigators that he had both his personal bank card and the parish credit card connected to his iPhone, because the latter was used to pay for "streaming" and "Microsoft Office." Kozak said he hadn't intentionally used the parish card for his in-game purchases, but might have accidentally done so because he was not a "details guy," and usually just looked at the bottom line of a bill before hitting pay. Kozak also explained that his purchases were about "powering up," rather than gambling.

Documents obtained by police include "A spreadsheet containing Apple transactions associated with the Apple ID… associated with Kozak between 12/30/18 and 06/15/22." Those records show a grand total of $214,265.08 in transactions across that four-year period, some with order numbers consistent with irregular transactions found on the church's own financial records. Other records show Kozak making payments towards the church's credit card balance from a personal bank account, totalling $10,600.

On top of the Apple transactions for in-game boosts, other records show that an Amazon account connected to Kozak had also used parish funds to buy a Fire Tablet and kid's backpack that were shipped to Kozak's goddaughter, with notes signed by "Uncle Larry."

All of which, no doubt, looked quite damning to church officials, who placed Kozak on administrative leave in November 2022. In 2023, Kozak's replacement at Saint Thomas More Parish Thomas Kletzel told police he had received a letter from Kozak containing a cheque for $8,000 for "Parish reimbursement" alongside a handwritten letter reading "I am so sorry that I made this mistake which has been any source of stress for you." 

In 2023, the parish's business manager expressed scepticism to police that Kozak would be unaware of his purchases on the parish credit card. Kozak was charged last Thursday with theft and other, associated crimes, and has since been released after posting $250,000 bail.

During his interview with the police, Kozak said he was seeking counselling for his struggles with videogame addiction, which is—regardless of the particulars of Kozak's personal situation—a very real and sinister problem.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.