Human Trafficking Survivor: ‘I Won’t Let This Experience Break Me’ (Part 3)

After escape from sex trafficker, Breahannah Leary’s advocate helped turn her shame into healing

Penny (Gallegos) King, is a retired Colorado State Highway Trooper and former member of the FBI’s Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force. She was instrumental in helping Breahannah Leary face her trafficker, which helped lead to the arrest of Brock Franklin and his five co-conspirators in 2015. (Courtesy photo from Penny King)

By Jennifer Kocher

Special to the Wyoming Truth

This is the third part in a series about Breahannah Leary. Check out part one and part two. Given the graphic nature of the story, which involves violence and references sex acts, reader discretion is advised.

Nearly eight years after escaping her sex trafficker, Breahannah Leary, 36, continues to live through the ordeal that has irreparably altered her life.

Leary was one of nine women and girls who were trafficked by Brock Franklin. In 2017, Franklin, 31, received a 472-year sentence for 30 counts related to the prostitution of three girls and five women, including Leary. 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, Colorado. Franklin’s five co-conspirators also received varying sentences for charges associated with Colorado Organized Crime Control Act.

For the first time since Franklin’s indictment, Leary is sharing her story exclusively with the Wyoming Truth to shed light on the nefarious nature of trafficking as she advocates for other survivors. The following account comes from interviews with Leary and law enforcement, as well as court documents.

Restored trust

It’s been a long journey for Leary, who never thought she’d see her trafficker brought to justice.

It took a passionate FBI task force agent to convince Leary to help put Franklin behind bars.

Her name is Penny (Gallegos) King. Not only did she change Leary’s perception of law enforcement, but King also became a mentor and friend. King had been a highway patrol trooper for 20 years before joining the FBI’s Human Trafficking Task Force in 2013. The task force works in tandem with a multi-disciplinary team of law enforcement officers, victim’s advocates, child protective services staff and county prosecutors.

King, who became a cop at age 21, retired from her law enforcement career at age 48 in 2020. Her passion was helping children in particular, which drove her to the task force, and ultimately, Leary’s case against Franklin. 

For King, a mother of a special needs child, it was personal: Franklin had been out on parole in Colorado after serving time for pimping out a 15-year-old girl with cerebral palsy in his home state of Minnesota, she said.

Breahannah Leary, 36, continues to heal from her experience being sex trafficked by Brock Franklin, who she helped put behind bars. (Courtesy photo from Breahannah Leary)

In 2015, King and Leary met for the first time. Back then, Leary was out on bond for solicitation charges and failing to appear for a traffic violation. King’s job was to rescue sex trafficking victims, both children and adults. She’d been monitoring Franklin for months and had already built up a strong case.

King heard Leary’s ordeal and enlisted her help in taking down Franklin. After Leary escaped Franklin’s Denver-based prostitution ring, she hid out at her aunt’s house in Arizona. King persuaded her to remain in contact with Franklin for three months and advised her to tell him she was just taking a break from sex work for a health ailment, but would return to Denver once healed. This allowed the FBI to track Franklin through the pair’s interactions.

It was a terrifying experience for Leary, who had to trust King to keep her safe while the FBI continued its investigation. King, who’d immediately taken a liking to Leary, talked her off a ledge when she phoned at 3 a.m., terrified of noises she thought she heard outside her aunt’s house.  

Leary believed Franklin would kill her if he found out that she was assisting the FBI. Leary knew firsthand the violence Franklin was capable of. He’d beaten her, and she’d heard him more than once brag on the phone to a confidant that he had “popped this “b****” to keep her in line. He’d also threatened multiple times that he’d kill her if she tried to leave, let alone turned against him.

“I knew he had all kinds of money and could go wherever he wanted,” Leary said.

In 2017, Brock Franklin, then 31, was sentenced to 472 years in prison for 30 counts related to the prostitution of three girls and five women, including Breahannah Leary. (Courtesy photo from the Colorado District Attorney 18th Judicial District)

Franklin was ultimately nabbed in Minnesota in the spring of 2015. He and his accomplice, Michelle Payne, had fled, and an arrest warrant was issued. With the assistance of the FBI in Minnesota, the pair were taken into custody without incident, King said, and extradited back to Colorado to face charges.

Being a voice

In the end, Leary overcame her deeply ingrained fears. She put her trust in the FBI and King, and she cooperated with the investigation. 

“She’s a special girl,” King said of Leary. “She fought really hard to change her life.”

Leary is equally complimentary of King; she considers her a second mother and the person who saved her life. Leary still grapples with the trauma of five months of victimization, when she was forced to perform sex acts on up to five men per night in hotel rooms across the West.  

There’s a lot of shame and guilt in what she was made to do, she said, despite the fact that she did what was necessary to survive. “It still affects me to this day,” Leary said. 

Today, Leary acknowledged that the road to recovery will be a life-long struggle. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and takes medication for anxiety, depression and sleep issues.

Leary currently lives with her 12-year-old daughter in a Denver suburb. Her 21-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter both attend the University of Colorado.

On Saturday, Breahannah Leary will speak about her experiences as a survivor of sex trafficking at a public event in Colorado Springs.

Leary is excited to begin her advocacy. On Saturday, she will speak about her experience at an event for Hope COS, a volunteer nonprofit focused on street outreach and addiction recovery in Colorado Springs, from noon to 3 p.m. 

“I will be a voice,” she said. “I won’t let this experience break me.”

Quashing demand

As for King, even in retirement, she is still impacted by her years fighting human trafficking.

“It’s literally everywhere,” she said. “You can’t un-see it once you’ve seen it.” 

It’s also very hard to eliminate, King said, because demand – aided by technology – continues to grow. King estimates she’s helped rescue over 300 victims, mostly children, from trafficking or abuse situations. 

“We’re not even making a dent,” she said. “You put an ad up [online] and there will be 50 responses in five minutes. There are not enough cops in the world to take care of it.”

King has been on busts where men have driven to hotels with baby seats in the back of their cars or shown up to buy sex on their lunch hours. “These are professional men who are married,” she said.

The answer? In King’s mind, it will take a multi-pronged approach to make an impact on human trafficking. She said more training is needed for law enforcement, the legal community and general public; more resources and rehabilitation opportunities are needed for victims; traffickers need to be held accountable; and law enforcement needs to pursue those who pay for sex.   

Cases like Leary’s make King proud of her career in law enforcement. On Mother’s Day and other holidays, many victims, including Leary, call or text her to share updates on their lives, wish her well or let her know they are safe. It means a lot to have these lasting connections, King said, and makes the work worthwhile. 

Said King: “If you can save one, one is better than none.” 

If you suspect someone is being trafficked, contact the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or anonymously submit a tip on their website. For more information about human trafficking, see information and resources available at Uprising, a Sheridan-based nonprofit specializing in human trafficking education and trainings.

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