March 22, 2023
By Jennifer Kocher
Special to the Wyoming Truth (AP Storyshare)
This is the first of three stories. Given the graphic subject matter, which involves violence and references sex acts, reader discretion is advised.
The first time Breahannah Leary met Penny (Gallegos) King in her Denver office in May 2015, she asked her father to wait in the car with the engine running. Leary didn’t foresee the conversation going well, if at all, and wanted a quick getaway. At the time, Leary was out on bond for solicitation charges and failing to appear for a traffic violation. She had zero faith that law enforcement was on her side.
King, a Colorado State Highway Trooper and member of the FBI’s Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force, was persistent. She’d reached out to Leary’s father, Darrell Hodges, and asked him to convince his daughter to meet her. Hodges had a long rap sheet himself. But he knew Leary was in trouble and put his own distrust of law enforcement aside to try to get her help.
Much to Leary’s surprise, the meeting went well.
“[King] immediately told me she didn’t care about any of the charges,” Leary told the Wyoming Truth in an exclusive interview. “I wasn’t expecting her kindness. She was just this strong, powerful woman who cared about her job.”
King’s job was to rescue sex trafficking victims, both children and adults. She’d monitored Leary’s trafficker for months and had already built up a strong case. Now, King needed victims to help put him behind bars.
What followed was the beginning of an unlikely alliance and friendship that also would result in the take-down of one of the most prolific sex trafficking rings in Colorado history. In 2017, Brock Franklin, 31, received a 472-year sentence for 30 counts related to the prostitution of three girls and five women, including Leary.
At the sentencing, the judge asked Leary how much money she thought Franklin had made from her exploitation. She responded that it was probably enough to buy everyone in court a new house.
It’s the longest sentence to date for a human trafficker in the United States, according to a statement from the Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo. Franklin and his five associates – Michelle Payne, Brandon Garrison, Isis Debreaux, David Fullenwiley Jones and Johnson Doyne – also were indicted on charges related to human trafficking, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, the distribution of a controlled substance, sex assault and kidnapping, among other charges.
Sex trafficking is a growing and largely underreported problem in Wyoming and beyond—and Franklin’s case sets a high bar for arrests. It’s hard to get convictions because victims fear testifying against their traffickers; they are often misidentified as willful participants and arrested for prostitution.
Only one human trafficking case was prosecuted federally in 2021 in Wyoming, compared to zero in 2020, according to a 2021 Federal Human Trafficking Report by the Human Trafficking Institute.
King said the key to putting more traffickers behind bars is training law enforcement and the legal community to recognize the difference between sex trafficking and sex between two consenting adults.
During her career, King led several trainings for law enforcement agencies across Wyoming. She said there’s a growing awareness of how to identify and help victims access resources to escape and testify against their traffickers in court.
Leary credits King’s support in helping her stand up to Franklin, who had threatened her life if she testified against him.
“It was terrifying for her,” King said of Leary. “These traffickers break their victims down, emotionally and physically.”
Eight years later, Leary is finally ready to share her story to shed light on the nefarious nature of trafficking and inspire other survivors to come forward. The following account comes from interviews with Leary and King, as well as court documents.
Leary grew up in the Denver suburbs and moved around a lot as a child. Her family was poor, but she doesn’t consider her life to have been harder than anyone else’s. After graduating from high school, Leary became a certified nursing assistant and worked in an assisted care facility.
When Leary met Franklin, she was 27 and a single mom of three children, who lived with their biological father and his family. She had made some bad choices that put Franklin in her orbit, Leary admitted. One of them was supplementing her income by placing ads for “dates” on Backpage, a classified advertising website founded in 2004 as an alternative to Craigslist; it was shut down by the FBI and other federal agencies in 2018.
At the time, Leary lived in Thornton, Colo., with her then-boyfriend, but struggled to make ends meet. A friend told her about Backpage, and she’d only been on a few “dates”—the term used online to advertise sex services—when she met Franklin at a local hotel. Immediately, he asked Leary to come work for him and promised to help take care of her children. She declined the offer, and Franklin left. (When pressed for details about some aspects of her experience, Leary declined comment due the trauma she endured.)
Leary worked just a few weekends as an escort, earning about $3,000 to $4,000 from white professional men—mostly lonely guys seeking companionship.
“I always tell people it’s the ones you wouldn’t expect,” she said about men who buy sex. “They’re the guys you see at your child’s soccer game.”
Franklin was Leary’s last client before she quit. She found sex work degrading and decided it was not worth the extra money she’d earned. Not long after, Leary fought with her boyfriend and moved out. (He had no idea she’d moonlighted as a sex worker.) Leary had all of her belongings stuffed in the back of her car when she stopped at Walmart on an errand. But her car wouldn’t start. Leary called everyone in her contact list, and when nobody answered, out of desperation she dialed Franklin’s number. He immediately came to her rescue, giving her car a jump so it would start.
“He noticed I was in a vulnerable position, and he took full advantage of that,” Leary said by phone from her home in Colorado.
When Franklin saw her packed car and heard she’d left her boyfriend, he invited Leary to come to his house for a good night’s sleep. She could chill out, he told her, and then look for a place in the morning.
“And, of course, I took the offer,” she said.
Beating herself up for her rash decision would have to wait. At that point, it was sheer survival. Franklin’s house was located in downtown Denver near the zoo, sandwiched between two churches on either corner. He opened the door and then quickly locked it behind her. Leary counted eight locks.
She looked around the dimly lit room and saw people curled up on the carpet and sleeping on couches with empty beer bottles, marijuana and other drugs strewn across the coffee table. Later, Leary learned it was one of several rentals Franklin used to house his victims.
Franklin turned to Leary and ordered her to strip down: she belonged to him now. He confiscated her driver’s license, Social Security card and birth certificate from her car and placed them in a plastic lanyard around his neck. There were at least five other women in the house—none of whom was excited to see a new female enter the mix.
Leary assessed the situation as she slipped into survival mode. There was no fighting her way out of it: At 5-foot-2, Leary was no match for this 6-foot-6 man.
She did as she was told.
On Saturday, March 25, Leary will speak about her experience at an event for Hope Cos , a Colorado Springs-based volunteer nonprofit focused on street outreach and addiction recovery. The event will take place from noon to 3 p.m.
Check back tomorrow for part two.