Robert Carter, Arizona's most famous hot-dog salesman, is learning the price of fame. Right now, the tab looks to be at least five years in the pen.
Carter, you may recall, is an escapee from the county jail's work-furlough program who was pictured on the cover of New Times four months ago. Carter had contacted the newspaper to complain about the work-furlough program, boasting that county jailers were so inept he could sell hot dogs under their noses without getting caught.
We took him up on the offer.
In the resulting photograph, a grinning Carter stood in front of the Madison Street Jail, selling a hot dog to Attorney General Grant Woods.
We lured Woods to the photo shoot by telling him it was a promotional gig for the annual Best of Phoenix supplement. Upon learning that he had been set up to pose with an escaped felon, Woods was not amused.
He threatened to sue, cast aspersions upon our sense of civic duty and even claimed that we had put his life at risk.
The attorney general can now sleep safely. The streets of Phoenix are safe from rogue hot-dog vendors. Carter is back inside the Madison Street Jail, apparently arrested as a result of the publicity that ensued after the photo stunt.
Various national publications, from USA Today to Harper's magazine, picked up on the photo gag and the attorney general's bristling reaction to it.
Carter says authorities were tipped off to his whereabouts by someone who saw the picture when it was reprinted by the National Enquirer.
He was arrested October 28 in San Diego and extradited to Phoenix last week. He now faces an escape charge, in addition to paying his dues for the theft conviction that landed him in jail to begin with.
Awaiting arraignment on the charges early this week, Carter said he does not know how much time he may face, but is expecting it to be at least five years. The escape charge carries a sentence of at least one and a half years, and Carter expects more to be tacked on from his original theft charge.
Before his arrest, Carter claims, he had contacted Phoenix attorney Michael Vaughn to arrange a voluntary surrender. Vaughn could not be reached for comment.
Carter says he is hoping he can cut a deal with prosecutors, serve his time and put his legal troubles behind him. However many years he gets, he says, "I just wanna kill this damn number and get it over with."
In the aftermath of his hot-dog sale, Carter figured, correctly, that participating in a prank on the attorney general would not endear him to the authorities. He says he headed for California immediately after the photo session.
In fact, he says, he has yet to see the paper in which his picture ran, although several friends he has called in the past few months have promised they have it framed and waiting for him.
Carter says he spent most of his time on the lam working for a guy from Alameda named Frank, who had a lot of cash and owned two very large boats. Carter says he worked on one of the boats, which sailed from Long Beach with one name on its side and arrived in San Diego with a completely new identity.
"Let's just say I met some interesting people," Carter says.
He was sitting in a Denny's restaurant on October 28, he says, when two San Diego County sheriff's deputies arrested him. The deputies told Carter that one of his shipmates dropped a dime on him after seeing the Enquirer reprint of the hot-dog picture.
"I was going to give myself up, anyway," Carter claims. "It was getting to where everybody recognized me."
Even though he is in jail and facing significant prison time, Carter says he has no regrets about posing for the photo with Woods. Many people walk away from work furlough, he says, but few do it with such "flair."
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As of Monday, Carter says, he had not been able to speak with his public defender and does not know what kind of plea bargain he may be able to work out. He has been trying to keep a low profile in hopes that the photo won't be used against him.
"People [in jail] keep coming up and saying, 'You look familiar,'" he says. "Most of them haven't caught on."
(We called Steve Tseffos, a spokesman for the attorney general, to see if our state's highest law enforcement officer had any reaction to Carter's arrest. Tseffos, who vowed never to speak with New Times again after the hot-dog stunt, did not return a phone call Monday.)
Resigned to do his time, Carter says he'll take whatever comes. After a few years, he hopes, his debt will be settled and he can rejoin his wife, whom he has not seen since his initial escape.
When he finally is released--legally--Carter says he plans to leave Arizona for good. "Though maybe I'll sell Fife some hamburgers on my way out of town," he says.