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Bad, Bad Lori Arnold
  • September 22, 2011 : 20:09
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Our horses won enough stakes races so it looked like a legitimate business. The only problem with laundering drug money through a horse-racing operation is that if you’re not careful, it will eat up every meth dollar you make. We were going through at least $100,000 a month on the horses.

I began spending my nights doing the paperwork. Every receipt had to be logged and marked, and I tried to account for every dollar. The car lot, the bar, the horse operation, all the vehicles and the boats, the horses—I was making sure every penny of it looked legit. I began buying houses, little rental houses all over town. I would buy them on time, then rent them out to friends who were eligible for Section 8 money from the government. The checks were sent directly to me. It was a great business, profitable and a way to hide plenty of cash because of all the expenses you could put against the houses. I eventually owned 18 properties around town. And every year I made sure I paid the IRS its piece. I knew that was the easiest way to get popped, so I kept the books clean.

No matter how loaded I was or how many nights I’d stayed awake, I always made Josh breakfast, got him to school and was there waiting for him when the bus stopped down the road. Sometimes I would have to race past the school bus on the way out of town in my Jaguar to get there, but I would always make it.

We were going through three to five pounds a week, and Floyd was busy with the horses. Even if he did a West Coast run every week, which was impossible, we still wouldn’t have enough supply. It was too taxing for us. All the legitimate businesses were starting to eat up so much cash that I could send out only $200,000 at a time. A nuclear power plant was going up outside of town, and the Pioneer Seed Company built a factory, and more than a few of these guys were doing double shifts on my stuff, then staying out and partying all night.

There was always demand, always. By now our dealers had buddies in Nebraska, Minnesota and Missouri.

I needed more than 10 pounds a month.


We flew a chemist out to Iowa. He told us what lab equipment and chemicals to order, and we had them shipped to us at the car lot. It cost me $50,000, all of it ordered through pharmaceutical catalogs. This guy didn’t even do meth. The only time he would do it was after he cooked a batch, when he would shoot up to make sure it wouldn’t kill you. It was like his seal of approval. We had him cook us a test batch.

One line and I knew he was our chemist.


Floyd bulldozed a furrow out in the back 40, and we hauled a camper up there and basically buried it and then laid camouflage netting on top. We thought it was invisible. The whole lab was in there—the glassware, the big self-enclosed computerized cooker with dials all over it, the tubes and charcoal filters. The chemist would be out there for three days at a time, day and night, sleeping on the ground next to the lab. That’s how long it took to cook a batch. We could do 20 pounds a month now, and the cost was down to $2,000 a pound.

A good month would mean we moved that 20 pounds; at about $42,000 a pound that meant during our best months we were netting $800,000. Our meth was so good and pure that pretty soon we had the guys from California coming to us.


Tom by then was working on Roseanne and was even a character on the show. They were an item already, no matter what he might have thought about her looks. (I told him that for $50 million, or whatever she’s worth, I’d fuck her.) She was trying to get pregnant, and they didn’t know Tom had a low sperm count. So Roseanne would hop down to Iowa City to get her in vitro treatments.

They had a yacht out in Rathbun, and they began buying up a lot of property. We even took a flight in Roseanne’s private jet. Tom knew I was dealing—hell, how could he not? But by then he was already doing a lot of coke himself, so he wasn’t in a position to lecture me.

Look at how crazy his life was: engaged to Roseanne, doing too much blow, making millions. Just crazy in a different way than mine. We’re both, somehow, like our mom. Talkative, fun-loving people who can’t shut off our brains or our mouths.


I kept the little cabin by the river. I went out there once in a while and walked around. I thought about that river rising, how frightened I had been, how fast the water came up while I was holding my baby and how I would be frightened my feet would stick there, held fast by the mud. How I had worried I would never get away.

I’d left the place exactly as it was. Josh’s baby pictures on the wall, the old dishes in the cabinets, the empty beer cans piled in a pyramid. I would go back there and remember how it was.

One day I drove back there and saw a smoldering black pile. It had burned to the ground.


By 1990 we couldn’t find any more drums of P2P. That meant we couldn’t make any more of the good stuff. The problem was nationwide; even our old connections in California and Arizona were no longer able to produce high-grade meth. This was when the next wave of the epidemic really began sweeping America—low-grade, low-priced speed that strings you out.

I wish I could say I never touched the low-quality stuff, never sold it. But when that was all we could get, we had no choice. It made you spacey, and for the first time I felt I was hooked on it instead of just enjoying a good long buzz. This was the stuff that made you pick at your skin, left people walking around with sores and blisters. Everyone was paranoid and getting suspicious of one another. A few years of staying awake all the time will do that to you. People started getting tweaky. You could drive all over southeastern Iowa and there were always people up partying.

I would go over to my friend Donna’s house, and I would be like, “You see that helicopter?”

Donna would nod. “Hell yeah, I’m seeing them all the time.”

I would think, Damn, there are helicopters flying around all the time.

I was doing an eight ball a day. We were used to walking around in the flow, feeling good for so long, and then this. Okay, maybe it was a slow leak, like a steady leak. But then, with the bad stuff, it turned into a blowout.

But I still needed to sell. We had to keep finding pounds, even pounds of low quality, just to keep the ranch and the horses and all the businesses going. I met a Mexican named Juan who was sweet on me. Floyd was never home, always out at the tracks. He didn’t notice we were running out of meth, and if we ran out of meth we would run out of money. I knew Juan had the hots for me, and I would use that to get him to drive up with a pound or two of meth. But it was getting harder and harder to get any quality stuff, so sometimes we just had to buy, sell and do the low-grade nose-­burning stuff.

Those strange vehicles following me? Those helicopters? That’s the kind of shit you imagine when you’re on the low grade, right?


I was on Bluegrass Road bringing a few ounces to town in the black truck when I saw two dozen highway patrol vehicles—unmarked cars with huge antennas out the back—and vans and trucks all speeding down the highway in the opposite direction.

I called Floyd and told him I’d seen a convoy of cops pass by and to be on the lookout.

The feds surrounded the place. They came up the roads; they even came over the hills. Floyd said there were about 60 of them. They kept Floyd and all the guys who worked for us locked up all day while they tore the place apart. They ripped up that nice furniture and tore it apart, just destroyed our house and the ranch. They found a pound and a half of meth, a pound of pot we had forgotten about, 44 guns and about $23,000 in cash.

I had been hiding out in town all day as soon as I heard we were getting busted. And we weren’t the only ones. They were hitting all our friends. They had been following us for over a year and knew everyone in our little network.

When I called home that night, Floyd answered.

“They left.”

“What?” I asked.

“They took the dope and the guns and the cash and took off.”

“Without arresting anyone?”


“What the hell?”

I called my brother Tom, and he recommended a good lawyer.

Plenty of people we knew had been arrested by local cops. Nobody had dealt with the feds. The lawyer told me what they were doing was gathering material for an indictment.

I figured I had kept my books clean, that all my businesses looked legit, so they couldn’t get me for dealing. My lawyer called the DEA and told them I was willing to turn myself in. They said they weren’t interested. I began thinking, Hell, maybe they don’t have anything on us. Maybe we’re in the clear.

I knew I was lying to myself. I never stopped dealing or using. I kept telling myself, One more deal.


Pretty soon all our friends were getting busted or getting subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury. They were all asking what to do. If they lied on the stand, they’d get five years. I called my lawyer and asked what to do. He said there was nothing I could do.

I know what badass drug dealers are supposed to do in this situation: Kill everyone who might snitch. Well, I guess I’m not a badass drug dealer.

Besides, what do you do when they subpoena 106 people? You can’t kill them all.


I didn’t sleep much. I felt like I hadn’t slept in a month. But one night, just before dawn, I fell into a delicious, deep sleep. I had been up so long I finally crashed.

I woke up with a gun to my forehead. I looked over and Floyd was on the floor, and there were half a dozen cops sitting on him and cuffing him.

“What do you want?” I asked. I was so tired, I just wanted to go back to sleep.

This guy was literally sitting on me. I look up; he was skinny with thinning brown hair, a mustache. “You know damn well what I want.”

I’m not wearing anything but my underwear. The cop climbs off of me and hands me a tracksuit lying on the floor. I get dressed in front of two dozen cops, all wearing different jackets: FBI, ATF, DEA.

“Damn, all those letters,” I said. “Where’s AC/DC?”

“Here,” one of the cops hands me my glasses.

I shake my head. “Don’t need those to see where I’m going.”


When they were leading me downstairs, I heard some of the cops shouting that someone was making a run for it. I knew it was my son, Josh.

“No, no!” I began shouting. I thought they were going to shoot my boy.

They had arrested 11 of us. They thought Floyd was the big fish. When they realized Floyd didn’t know much, they tried to get me to somehow implicate my brother. Tom was never involved in the meth. They ended up charging me with continuing a criminal enterprise, two counts of money laundering, illegal possession of firearms, two counts of manufacturing, distribution and possession.

I didn’t have a criminal record. I’d heard of friends who had gotten arrested, even with a pound of meth, and they would get a year. I figured I’d get a year, a year and a half.

Then my lawyer told me they were asking for life. “And with the feds, when they say life they mean you won’t get out until you die.”

They were holding me in the Story County jail.

I remember when Josh first visited me, I told him I’d be out soon.


Tom and Roseanne came to town. Tom was trying to get clean by then. Roseanne had said she wouldn’t marry him unless he stopped doing coke. He was actually straightening out his life and would become famous as a guy who helped other people in Hollywood get sober and stay clean.

They put up $400,000 cash for my bail. I was thinking, Finally, after a few weeks, I’m going to get out. But they took me back to the county jail. The FBI said they had found a hit list back at the ranch, DEA agent’s names and their license plates. It wasn’t a hit list, it was a list of DEA vehicles that a friend of mine who worked at a garage had collected so we could keep track of them. But I was deemed a threat and denied bail.

The feds wanted to make a case against Tom and Roseanne. They kept saying Tommy was involved, even showed photos of me on Roseanne’s jet with her two Cuban pilots standing there, as if this was all part of some big drug conspiracy.

There was nothing there.

The last time I saw Floyd was when they let us out into the basketball court at county jail. The guys could open their windows and yell at us. I felt sorrier for Floyd than I did for myself. When you see somebody who was that big in everybody’s eyes confined to a box.

My lawyer told me if I pleaded guilty I would do 25 years. They read off my charges at the federal courthouse in Des Moines. After each one, I said, “Guilty.”


I called my son and told him I’d gotten 25 years.

He hung up on me.


I did a total of 16 years in prison.


I like the heat of Phoenix. It feels like a fresh start. I’m not supposed to drink or take any drugs. So far, I’ve been good. I’ve had a beer or two, but I’ve been keeping clean. And I’m a good worker, the best at my firm. It turns out I’m almost as good at selling people on starting their own online businesses as I was at slinging meth. I’m the top seller almost every week.

I’ve known my husband, John, since we were kids. He’d always liked me, and when I got out of prison this last time, then transferred to a halfway house in Arizona, he called me and asked if I wanted a ride on his Harley. He was driving long-haul trucks back then, and he had a job out here. I’ve always liked bikes.

He’s a good influence—quiet, steady, and he was never into the meth.

Floyd died at Leavenworth in 2004. I never saw him again.

My son, Josh, still lives in Ottumwa. He’s getting his teaching certificate and plans to be a basketball coach. We talk all the time and share everything. Tom and Roseanne were a huge help when I was in prison. They paid for Josh to go to military school and looked after him. Big bro came through for me again.

I talk to Tom all the time. He’s also stayed clean. He visited me in Alderson Federal Prison a few years back and gave a little talk to all the girls about staying off drugs.

I remember when this book Methland came out, about the meth epidemic and my part in it. Tom was doing stand-up, and he thought he would read some of the book and riff about us and what I had been up to. But as he read it, he said, “Damn it, this sounds more like Lori saved the economy of Iowa instead of ruining it.”

I remember Tom telling me that and thinking, Yeah, but I didn’t save myself.

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read more: News, magazine, issue october 2011


  • Anonymous
    This is the kind of quality writing and reporting you just don't get from "blog sites"
  • Anonymous
    Sparse with words, loaded with the feels. What a crazy world.
  • Anonymous
    Amazing story. Thanks.