ST. TAMMANY PARISH, La. — She walked in to court slowly, with the assistance of a walker, but the presence of Pat Finn in a St Tammany Parish Courtroom loomed large over former St Tammany Parish Sheriff Rodney “Jack” Strain.

Strain pleaded not guilty to eight sex abuse charges Thursday, among them aggravated rape and aggravated incest.

One of those aggravated rape charges involves Pat Finn’s son, Mark.

The Finns are long-time family friends of the Strains. Pat’s husband was best friends with Strain’s father.

The families were so close that Mark would go over to the Strain house almost daily as a child. That’s where Mark now says the molestation and later, rape, began.

“They had a lot of cows over there. And the kids would enjoy roping the cows and Mark would go over there, every day we would take him over there or they would come pick him up. This went on for years,” Pat said in an interview following Strain’s arraignment.

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She said Mark first told her about the alleged abuse five years ago when he was an inmate in one of Strain’s controversial work release programs that are now the subject of a federal corruption probe.

“Mr. Strain was like a son to me. I did not want to believe it at first,” Pat said.

But Mark went on to tell law enforcement and spoke exclusively about it with WWL-TV and partner newspaper The Times Picayune | New Orleans Advocate in February.

“He used to molest me. I'd say it probably started when I was around 6-years-old up to 12-years-old. And then it got to the point that he started raping me,” Mark said.

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He is a self-admitted career criminal. Mark went back to prison this spring on drug charges.

Pat said Thursday her son is getting much-needed counseling in jail.

“I had taken Mark to rehab when he was 15. I took him out of Covington High because he was fighting and he was so angry. And the doctor at the rehab said, Ms. Finn, there's something in this boy's head but I can't get it out,” she said.

Pat went on to say she believes that “something” was the sexual abuse by Strain.

The appearance in court was difficult for Pat. She said Strain stared at her throughout the hearing, feeling his anger for her continued support of her son, real or not. But she came to court for a reason.

“If anything happened to me, I don't want this swept underneath the rug, if you know what I'm talking about. I want this out in the open,” she said.

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Strain’s next court appearance on the sex abuse charges is scheduled for Sept. 25.

FBI agents were in the courtroom during the arraignment as well. While Strain has not been charged with any federal crime, there is a looming corruption investigation into his involvement in a kickback scheme involving the privatized work release program.