LAWRENCEVILLE -- The takedown of Kip Genter began in a Duluth kitchen a month before the Atlanta Olympics. It ended Tuesday.
In the apartment's kitchen, investigators who'd been tracking Genter's phone calls -- in one of Gwinnett's first wire-tapping operations -- found him diluting two unwrapped kilos of cocaine.
Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Dawson Jackson on Tuesday accepted Genter's guilty plea to a charge of conspiracy to traffic more than 400 grams of cocaine. The judge sentenced Genter, 37, to serve 25 years in prison, as prosecutors had asked for in a plea deal, essentially closing the oldest pending criminal case in Gwinnett.
Between the kitchen and the courtroom Genter had become an international fugitive and led a double life under an assumed name for more than a decade near Miami. The ruse ended when FBI agents arrested him in May. But Genter has not told authorities where he'd been in the intervening years, and the matter was not discussed in court.
"It hasn't become more clear -- he hasn't given us any more information," said Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter.
A known cocaine boss, Genter vanished on the eve of his 1999 trial. Gwinnett authorities, working with the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service, had been on the Norcross High School graduate's trail for the last 12 years.
Genter faced up to 85 years on an indictment with additional and intensified charges handed down after his capture. All counts but conspiracy were dropped in exchange for the plea.
Wearing glasses, leg shackles and a green jail jumpsuit, Genter spoke only when answering the judge, "Yes, sir" and "No, sir," and to remind the judge he was admitting to only conspiracy charges.
Genter was raised in an affluent family, owners of a vending machine company, who have since relocated to Texas and Florida. After high school, he fell into the early '90s club scene when powder cocaine was en vogue, officials have said.
In a time before Mexican cartels had a significant local presence, Genter transitioned from cocaine user to dealer and quickly rose to the head of a multi-county cocaine and marijuana trafficking ring in metro Atlanta.
Twenty-one people were charged as codefendants in connection with Genter's case. Each of those cases has been disposed of, all prison sentences served.
"The ironic thing is, if he'd have stayed and gone to prison, he'd probably have been out by now," Porter said outside the hearing. "The others are."
After Genter fled, intelligence gathered over the years suggested he was living in Holland and South America, Porter said. It's believed he re-entered the United States under the name "Kevin Berger."
An officer in Miami stopped Genter for a traffic citation in 2001, but let him go, under the impression he was Berger. That was the last authorities had heard from Genter until this year, and the last trace of the Berger alias.
FBI agents in Florida apprehended Genter without incident in May, and he was extradited to Gwinnett. It's believed he'd been living in Florida for the last decade, working with a vending company in the Miami area. His girlfriend of 11 years knew nothing of his lingering criminal allegations, and she knew him only as "Jimmy McCall."
Despite the time lapse, Mayfield said all essential witnesses and codefendants had been located and were prepared to testify against Genter, in a trial that would have consumed two weeks. The statute of limitations on Genter's case would have been four years, but that doesn't apply because he absconded.
Parole eligibility guidelines fluctuate regularly, but Porter said it's likely Genter will serve more than a decade before being considered for parole.
For Porter, the case had become personal, as he drove Genter's former vehicle -- a seized 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser bought with $53,000 cash -- for a decade as his county car. The green Toyota became synonymous with Porter's presence at crime scenes, until he turned it back into the county with 140,000 miles.
The Toyota also served as a daily reminder of the one who'd gotten away.
"It's good to see that case closed out," Porter said.