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Crime & Courts

The life and death of an Anchorage undercover informant

David Cargill in 2013. Cargill was killed in October 2018. (Photo courtesy of Debbie Cargill)

On a Sunday afternoon in October, David Cargill, a 35-year-old father and confidential informant for the Anchorage Police Department, rose from the couch in his mother’s home to run to the grocery store.

His mom needed an onion for the meatloaf she was planning to make for dinner. By nightfall he still wasn’t home. His mother, Debbie Cargill, felt a building dread.

She had reason to worry. Her son was an addict, long ensnared in the gyre of opioids. He was an insulin-dependent diabetic.

And he had a very dangerous job.

For months, Cargill had been working with the Anchorage Police Department as an undercover informant in a major drug case, secretly video and audio recording buys of thousands of dollars' worth of cocaine, meth, prescription opioids and guns from two large, heavily armed men who worked out of an auto shop in the industrial sprawl off the Old Seward Highway.

A few weeks earlier, a detective had called to let David know that one of the men, a 400-pound 38-year-old with a long and violent criminal record named Marquis Eloi, had been arrested for a laundry list of drug crimes related to the undercover buys. Eloi had gotten out of jail the same day as his arrest, Sept. 13, posting $15,000 bail.

Still, Cargill didn’t see himself as in imminent danger, his mother said.

Cargill knew the danger of what he had taken on, Debbie Cargill said. Police had told him that his identity would eventually be revealed — but she says he didn’t think that would happen until much later, when the case went to trial.

What David Cargill didn’t know was that on Oct. 11, a prosecutor had turned over evidence to Eloi’s attorney, according to a federal affidavit. That evidence included video recordings made by Cargill as he bought drugs and a gun from the men undercover.

The defendant, Eloi, had a right to see that evidence. David’s identity was no longer a secret.

When Cargill didn’t come home by Monday morning, his mom started calling hospitals and jails.

Debbie Cargill talks about the circumstances around the killing of her son, David Cargill. Photographed Nov. 27. (Anne Raup / ADN)

The longer he was gone, the more certain she became that one of the “bad guys,” as she thought of drug dealers Cargill had been informing on, had killed him.

“I knew he was dead,” she said in a recent interview from her pet-filled home in Anchorage.

On Wednesday, Oct. 17, two detectives from the Anchorage Police Department showed up at the front door of her house and confirmed her fears.

Cargill hadn’t gone to the grocery store. For reasons his mother still doesn’t understand, around 11:30 that night he had driven to the auto body shop on East 66th Avenue where he had previously made drug and weapon buys under police surveillance.

This time, he wasn’t wearing a wire. There were no police nearby to back him up. Eloi and Scotty Mataia were waiting for him, according to an affidavit in a federal case against the men.

A utility worker discovered Cargill’s body dumped in the woods surrounding a power plant out the Old Glenn Highway.

He had been shot to death.

Little known

The death of David Cargill provides a rare window into the murky role of confidential informants in Alaska’s criminal justice system.

While police informants are widely used in Alaska by law enforcement to make undercover buys and provide information in drug and other criminal cases, the system is secretive and virtually unregulated.

Police in Anchorage and from Nome to Ketchikan to Dillingham routinely use confidential informants to make cases, a review of drug prosecutions that made it to trial state shows.

One common tactic is deploying addicts or small-time dealers to make undercover drug buys from higher-level dealers, usually as an implicit exchange for leniency in a separate case the informant is facing.

The American Civil Liberties Union says that nationally, up to 80 percent of drug cases rely on the use of confidential informants.

Critics charge that confidential informants are vulnerable, usually addicts themselves, and there are no standards to ensure their safety once they’ve helped the police.

The Anchorage Police Department would not describe its use of confidential informants or answer any questions about the program, citing participant safety.

Occasionally, court cases involving informants offer glimpses into how the system works: One 2011 Court of Appeals decision describes Kodiak’s district attorney asking a judge to relax a man’s probation so he could enter bars and buy drugs as a confidential informant. The man had agreed to the work in exchange for getting off probation early so he could leave Alaska, according to the appeals court decision.

Anchorage police recognize four kinds of informants, according to a police manual available to the public: occasional informants, arrested informants, regular informants and special informants — people who, like Cargill, actively participate in illegal activity for police and who are afforded special protection due to their exposure.

A special informant "might actively assist an undercover agent in the penetration of a criminal organization, and/or sets up buys,” the manual says. “This type of informant may ultimately require police protection/relocation assistance, as court testimony is normal in these instances.”

Attorneys don’t want to talk on the record about confidential informants, saying that revealing information about how the programs work could come back to bite their clients in dealings with prosecutors and police.

But Alaska defense attorneys say clients who elect to become confidential informants are often young and unsophisticated. The line between undercover informant and addict is blurry.

Most of the time, the deal is more of a handshake than a contract. Informants help police in exchange for leniency in prosecution for their own legal problems. But those decisions are actually not in the hands of police -- prosecutors decide how much of a break the informant will get for their help. Informants get no guarantee they’ll get anything for their cooperation.

The APD has said it “rigorously” followed its own guidelines in Cargill’s case. But it’s less clear what policies exist once the case is in the hands of prosecutors and the informant’s identity will be revealed.

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The district attorney in the Eloi case, Office of Special Prosecutions attorney John Darnall, wouldn’t answer questions about whether he notified Cargill that evidence had been turned over to the defendant.

“I have no comment on this matter,” Darnall wrote in an email.

Cargill’s own reasons for agreeing to the job are also not fully explained. He was raised in a world where the police were a familiar presence.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Debbie Cargill worked for the Anchorage Police Department as a crime prevention specialist and spokeswoman while raising her son as a single mother.

Debbie Cargill looks at an APD police badge that was presented to her son, David Cargill, when he was a boy. The box is full of mementos of David and Debbie's lives. (Anne Raup / ADN)

David sometimes visited work with her. As an 11-year-old, he even received his own hefty metal “junior police officer badge” for his role in tipping off police about an assault he witnessed at Cheney Lake. David’s father was a police officer too, she said, though the couple split when their son was a baby.

But David Cargill dropped out of school in ninth grade, and became increasingly dependent on drugs — first cocaine, then prescription opioids. He became a father of two sons while he was still a teenager. Though he worked at jobs, including as a baggage handler at the Anchorage airport, he never really moved on from living with his mom.

Debbie Cargill says she told her son about confidential informing, a world she was well versed in from her years working for the police.

She insists her son was not facing charges and received nothing from police in exchange for going undercover to bust drug dealers.

She believes her son might have volunteered for informant duty to atone for his own involvement in drugs.

“He didn’t get anything for it,” she said.

But attorneys say people rarely — if ever — volunteer for confidential informant work if they don’t stand to gain something from police.

In August of 2015, Cargill was investigated for soliciting drugs and sex for money from a minor he knew, in a car in the Muldoon area. He was charged with two counts of attempted sex abuse of a minor, according to a statement released to media at the time.

Today, no record of those charges exist in Courtview. Debbie Cargill says they were dismissed for lack of evidence.

Debbie Cargill talks about the killing of her son, David Cargill. (Anne Raup / ADN)

The week David Cargill was killed was supposed to be a fresh start for him, his mother said. He had an appointment for the next week to check in to a hospital in Soldotna for detox, followed by a monthlong stay at a rehabilitation facility there.

Another mystery haunts Debbie Cargill: Why did her son return to the auto body shop on East 66th Avenue that Sunday night, walking into danger?

Did he want to keep up appearances by showing up so they wouldn’t suspect he was the informant? Did the men lure him there somehow? Or was it the simple desperation of an addict going to buy drugs for himself?

“Maybe his addiction just took over,” she said.

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