Mark Finn looks the part of a troubled ex-convict. Wiry and tattooed, with a volatile temper, the 49-year-old admits to anger issues and has spent nearly half his life in jail — much of it, he says, because of fighting.

But Finn says his life went wrong much earlier, when a close family friend, Jack Strain, began molesting him. He says the abuse started when he was a 6-year-old boy and Strain, who would later become St. Tammany Parish Sheriff, was in his early teens.

Strain, who left office in 2016, is under federal investigation for allegedly taking kickbacks as sheriff from friends he set up to run a work-release program where inmates ending their sentences can work at jobs.

But the probe of alleged financial wrongdoing spawned a far more explosive set of allegations: that he sexually abused a handful of underage victims while in office.

Sources with knowledge of the investigation have said at least four victims, of both genders, have been identified by authorities.

Finn confirmed this week that he is one of them.

The Advocate has already reported that a second alleged victim of Strain's, who has been interviewed by authorities, has claimed that Strain began sexually abusing him when he was a teenager. Sources familiar with the probe say that victim described the sex as non-consensual, though the victim said he believed some of it took place after he reached the age of consent.

Billy Gibbens, Strain's attorney, called Finn's allegations "completely false" and says his client denies sexually abusing anyone at any time. 

Finn, of Abita Springs, was released from the St. Tammany Parish jail on Monday.

He said he was first interviewed by authorities two years ago, while he was incarcerated in Livingston Parish. Told he had visitors, Finn said he was brought into a room where agents from the FBI, the IRS and the U.S. Marshals Service were sitting at a table. They asked if there was anything he could tell them about Strain.

"I broke down," Finn said.

While the authorities initially wanted to know what Finn could tell them about Strain's financial dealings, he said he knows next to nothing about that. What he gave them instead was a harrowing story of sexual abuse that Finn says did not end until he was 12 years old. Strain would have been 19 at the time.

He has since been interviewed several additional times by federal agents and by State Police, with sessions in Livingston and Lasalle parishes.

Gibbens said the 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office had previously made him aware of Finn’s claims.

“He’s alleging that something happened more than 40 years ago that never happened,” Gibbens said. “He’s fabricated this and it’s completely false."

He described Finn as a "career criminal who’s been in jail most of his life."

"The last time Jack saw him he was working as a trusty at the St. Tammany Parish Jail. He has zero credibility," Gibbens said.

But Finn insists he is speaking the truth after long years of silence.

His family and that of the former sheriff were close, he said, describing their fathers as best friends. Jack Strain's father was Finn's godfather, Finn said, and as a child, he was at the Strains' house frequently, if not daily.

While Strain is just seven years older than Finn, Finn said the age difference loomed large when he was young. "I was 40 to 80 pounds," Finn said, describing his size during those years.  "He was 300 pounds. He was way big. I could never get him off me."

Strain forced him to perform oral sex and raped him anally, Finn said. "It's sickening the stuff he did to me," Finn said.

He did not tell anyone. "I used to keep the water on, because I would cry in the bathtub, and there would be blood in the bath," Finn said. "I didn't want to tell my mom and them, because I was scared they wouldn't believe me. My dad and my mom thought Jack was a god."

He finally told his mother in 2015, he said, and she cut off contact with the Strains.

Before that falling-out, though, Strain long had an outsize influence on Finn's family, he said. "Jack ruled my family...anything he said, we had to listen to. Whatever Jack said, that's the way it was."

As an adult, Finn has been in and out of jail on drug charges as well as battery charges. Most of his incarceration has been served in St. Tammany Parish, either in the jail or at the work-release facility that is at the center of the federal case.

Records show that Finn sometimes mentioned he knew Strain when he got stopped by law enforcement.  Finn acknowledged that he did ask a female companion to call the sheriff during a DWI stop. But when Strain asked him who had made the stop and learned State Police was on the scene, he told the woman that there was nothing he could do.

Finn said he believed Strain would have helped him if State Police had not arrived. He said the sheriff tried to intervene on his behalf at other times, perhaps because he felt guilty for his treatment of Finn years earlier.

"Because he knows what he's done to me, and the thing of it is, even by him helping me in jail, if he felt like he was giving me privileges by putting me in the halfway house, putting me in a trusty job in the jail...he does not know what he did to me," Finn said.

"I didn't live bad at the halfway house," said Finn, who had a separate apartment at the facility while others slept in a large, barracks-like dormitory. "It still doesn't take (away) what he did to me. He could give me everything in the world, but let me tell you one thing, I'm not going to be happy until he is locked up."

Twice during the late 1990s, Finn claims that Strain, by then the sheriff, took him out of work release and made a pass at him. Finn says he rebuffed Strain both times.

The first time, Strain had taken him to a camp in Abita Springs, Finn said, and claimed he was just joking around. The second time, he said, Strain took him fishing. When the sheriff grabbed his crotch, "I grabbed his arm and stopped him and told him, “I don’t do that,” Finn said.

Strain didn’t press the issue, he said. “He f---ing stopped, because he f---ing knew,” Finn said.

Most of his life, Finn said, he has been driven by anger stemming from the abuse he suffered. That anger has cost him dearly in terms of relationships with friends and family, he said. He also believes it's a big reason for his criminal history.

"I'm learning now to start talking about it," he said. "It's helped me out a lot; I'm a lot better than where I was."

But hearing Strain's name or seeing him in news reports can still make him snap, he said. "He's still walking the streets. But here I am raped, molested. He did everything to me. He took my manhood."


Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.