Indignation, and some amount of beer, compelled Robert Carter's first telephone call. Carter had just seen Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on television, he said.

The sheriff was bragging about the county's work-furlough program for jail inmates, and defending his department's recent inability to keep prisoners from escaping.

Carter had reason to quibble with the sheriff's remarks. A 36-year-old career scam artist of the nonviolent type, Carter knew that the work-furlough program was a joke, he said, because he had been in it. In fact, he had escaped from it earlier this year, and has yet to be caught.

As an escaped felon at large, he evinced little respect for the sheriff and Arpaio's men.

"These guys are so ignorant that I could arrange to sell hot dogs in front of the county jail and they wouldn't catch me," Carter boasted.

A curious, and irresistible, proposition.
Carter, we came to learn in subsequent conversations, not only could sell hot dogs in front of Madison Street Jail, he already had. Several weeks before he called New Times, he had manned a pushcart across the street from the downtown jail, one of the temporary jobs he's held since his escape.

Driven by, among other things, our obvious obligation to record rare and unusual events for the sake of history, we decided to re-create Carter's grandstand play.

A Mister Hot Dog stand operates on the sidewalk, smack in front of Madison Street Jail, which is directly behind the county courthouse. Between the two buildings, the street is constantly awash in jailers, police, attorneys and others with business at the jail or the courthouse.

Arranging temporary use of the cart was fairly simple, and Carter was willing to meet us there to pose.

One question remained. Who should be buying a hot dog from Carter?
Carter suggested it first. Would it not be ironic, he pointed out, for an escaped felon to sell a hot dog to the state's highest law enforcement official, Attorney General Grant Woods?

His logic was difficult to dispute.
Woods' penchant for publicity is legend. He has a reputation for trying to elbow his way into both society and news columns. It is risky to stand between the attorney general and a camera.

Last month Woods even capitalized on his spotlight-seeking reputation by hosting a campaign fund raiser featuring a movie, starring himself, called The Hound of Publicityville ("The Leading Man," June 30).

Pondering a possible challenge of governor and fellow Republican Fife Symington next year, might the hound hit on the scent of free publicity?

It was worth a try.
We called. For posterity's sake, we fudged a little. (History is more or less bunk." Henry Ford. 1916. Look it up.)

Would the attorney general be willing to meet us at a hot-dog stand and pose for pictures, we asked? It was, we explained, part of a promotion for the upcoming Best of Phoenix supplement. It took only mild persuasion before the state's attorney general agreed to pose with a hot dog.

(Others were not so agreeable. Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley said he would be out of town. Phoenix Police Department spokesman Sergeant Kevin Robinson, who, we gather, is a suspicious type, declined an invitation to pose.)

At the appointed time, Woods and First Assistant Attorney General Rob Carey strolled up to the Mister Hot Dog stand. Carter and our photographer were waiting. "Should I have my jacket on or off?" the attorney general asked. We told him on would be just fine.

The rest is now history.
Let the record reflect that shortly after 2 p.m. on Friday, July 16, 1993, a day with a recorded high temperature of 103 degrees and no breeze, the 22nd attorney general of Arizona stood in front of Madison Street Jail and received a hot dog from Robert Carter, escaped felon.

(We say "received" because Woods didn't actually pay for the hot dog. We did. We are not heartless. Woods took his dog plain. Carey got one with mustard.)

The attorney general soon had to leave for his next appointment. We gave him a complimentary New Times cap. He seemed to like it, and even put it on as he was walking away. Not once, in the roughly 45 minutes that Carter was standing at the jail's doorstep, was there any indication that the escaped felon elicited suspicion from passing jailers--not to mention an undercover Phoenix detective who stopped to buy a drink.

But then, the sheriff's department has had a surfeit of escapees to hunt down lately.

@body:"Yeah, he escaped," sheriff's department spokesman Sergeant Jay Ellison said after punching Carter's name up on his computer. "He apparently left on 5/9/93."

Carter escaped by simply walking away while he was out on work furlough. His flight merited little notice during what proved to be a tough month for the sheriff's department.

Nine other inmates fled county jails in May. Five escaped from a recreation area at First Avenue Jail by overpowering guards. All were ultimately recaptured.

Two inmates jumped the fence at Durango Jail, another slipped out of Madison Street Jail by hiding in a food cart, and a female trusty ran away while working on a landscape detail outside Estrella Jail.

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