LAWRENCEVILLE -- Authorities say Kip Genter's life has traversed several phases in his 37 years: From privileged Norcross youth, unbridled party boy, drug kingpin, slippery international fugitive to a workaday Floridian living a lie.
Suffice it to say the next phase will be the starkest thus far: Incarcerated drug-running suspect.
Gwinnett authorities who have been on the trail of the Norcross High School graduate for the last 12 years rejoiced in the news that Genter was finally apprehended May 15 near Miami. Charged with cocaine trafficking, Genter had fled the county in November 1999, on the day jury selection was to begin in his trial.
In the intervening years, tidbits of intel suggested Genter had been living abroad and using two aliases. For Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter, who called the pursuit of Genter "a long saga," the case became personal.
After Genter's takedown, authorities seized his 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser -- which he'd bought with $53,000 cash -- and Porter adopted the vehicle as his county car. The green Toyota would become synonymous with Porter's presence at crime scenes. He racked up 140,000 miles before turning it back in, though it always ushered in salty memories.
"I was driving a reminder of (Genter) for 10 years," Porter said Friday.
Genter was raised in an affluent Norcross family, owners of a vending machine company, who have since relocated to Texas, Porter said. His only prior criminal charge was a misdemeanor marijuana arrest. After high school, Genter fell into the early '90s club scene when powder cocaine was en vogue. He transitioned from cocaine user to dealer and quickly rose to the head of a multi-county cocaine and marijuana trafficking ring in metro Atlanta, Porter said.
"He was the guy," Porter said. "He was the boss of the organization."
Gwinnett authorities conducted one of the first wiretap operations in county history in an attempt to bring Genter down, tapping his cell and home phone. Multiple search warrants were executed one night in 1996 at a Duluth apartment complex, where Genter was found in possession of five kilos of cocaine, "which back then was a huge case," Porter said.
About 20 people were charged as codefendants in connection with the case. All those cases have been disposed of, those people having served time in prison and been released.
Years of subterfuge ensued as Genter and his attorney, who has since died, filed multiple continuances to delay Genter's day in court, Porter said.
"Then on the day we finally forced him to trial, he didn't show," Porter recalled. "He fled."
When a warrant was issued for Genter, it's believed he fled to Europe, possibly to Amsterdam. He re-entered the United States under the name Kevin Berger, said Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department investigator Dominick Crea, who works with the U.S. Marshal's Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force.
At one point, Crea thought Genter had fled to Costa Rica, but that was never substantiated. 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 month, and the last trace of the Berger alias, Crea said.
FBI Atlanta spokesman Stephen Emmett said local authorities in Florida apprehended Genter last week without incident, in conjunction with FBI Miami. Emmett would not say exactly how Genter's cover was blown.
When approached, Genter gave officers the name "Jimmy McCall," but they weren't fooled, according to Crea.
Crea believes Gunter had 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, of his years on the lam, and she knew him only as Jimmy McCall, Crea said.
"She lived an 11-year lie, basically," Crea said.
Over the years, the case had been worked by the U.S. Marshals, and the FBI had taken the lead. Crea said he poured untold hours into the case for about seven years. When he got the call that Genter was in custody, that his alleged elusiveness had dried up, Crea said he was "ecstatic."
Added Porter: "I was determined this guy was coming back."
Genter is being held at the Broward County Sheriff's Office just north of Miami, pending his extradition to Gwinnett.