Those four remain at large.
Two more female trusties walked away in mid-June, while they were being escorted back to Estrella Jail, and have not been recaptured.

Amid the breakout of breakouts, Carter's decision to set himself free did not even make the newspapers.

Ellison said he did not know how many other work-furlough inmates may have walked away and may still be at large.

Probation department spokesman Mike Goss said a warrant was issued for Carter four days after he took off, but the probation department has had no luck locating him.

Asked what the sheriff's department thought of an inmate who escaped from its custody selling hot dogs under jailers' noses, Ellison demurred.

"I don't feel I'm in a position to comment on that," he said. "But stranger things have happened." (He would not say what.)

@body:"I am not, by definition, an honest person," Robert Carter points out during one of our conversations. Last February, Carter was extradited back to Arizona from Virginia. By leaving the state--a trip home for his parents' 50th wedding anniversary that ended up stretching out to four months--he had violated his probation on an earlier theft conviction.

The original theft charge, he says, came after he and his wife were fired by a Phoenix property-management company. Carter and his wife were responsible for collecting rent from tenants, he says.

After they were canned, Carter's version goes, the couple decided to get even with the management company by giving tenants receipts for rent they hadn't actually paid.

"We got no money in return," he claims. "We just gave everybody a free month."
Sergeant Jay Ellison confirmed that Carter's original conviction was for a theft charge, but said the sheriff's records did not provide details on the incident.

Carter says his previous record includes 5 1/2 years in a Texas prison on fraud charges. He describes himself as a simple con man.

Back in the custody of Maricopa County, Carter says, he was given a choice of several years in jail or eight months in the work-furlough program. Naturally, he opted for the latter.

But it didn't take long, he maintains, to learn that the work-furlough program the sheriff brags about on television is "a joke."

Carter says inmates are given no assistance in finding a job. They are given no help with transportation to and from work. If their job requires them to leave before breakfast is served, or return after dinner is finished, they do not get to eat.

"I left before breakfast. I could not make it back until after dinner, so I had no meals," says Carter, who claims he lost 30 pounds while in the program.

On top of that, he says, inmates are charged $8.50 per day to be in the program. Add to that bus fare to and from work--and the cost of food, since his schedule forced him to miss jail meals, Carter says--and he was left with little money to support his family, one of the program's supposed goals.

"How can you expect people to start with nothing, give them nothing and end up with something?" he says. "You can't live like that."
After about a month, Carter says, he went out to work and didn't go back. Since then he has been on the lam, although he says he has seen no indication that the law is seriously trying to catch up with him.

Inclined not to reveal too many details, Carter says he has mostly stayed away from his wife and daughter since his escape, and found odd work where he can.

One such job was manning a hot-dog cart on Madison Street behind the courthouse.

Mitch Homsey, who owns a local pizza joint, confirms that a man he knew as "Bob," who matched Carter's description, worked a hot-dog cart for Homsey several months ago.

Bob, Homsey says, had been referred to him by a mutual friend. Homsey says he never knew Bob's last name, since Bob used several of them, and that their relationship did not end well. "The last time I saw him, he wanted money to go get an apartment, and said he'd be back in a couple of hours," Homsey says. "The man never came back."

Told that Bob is an escaped convict, Homsey swells with laughter. "That's ballsy," he says. "The man's a walkaway, and he works in front of the jail."

Carter says he worked for Homsey for about a week, and has worked odd jobs since, although he does not want to say where.

We last saw Carter at a bar near downtown, where we went to drink a toast to Grant Woods. It was just after the photo session.

He was still sitting there when we left. He looked up. "Life is fun. Life is weird," he said. "Life is weird fun.

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