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SUSAN EDELMAN / NY Post | October 16 2006

The woman in charge of the $1 billion fund that's fighting claims by sickened World Trade Center rescue and recovery workers is collecting $350,000 a year plus benefits from the federal fund - a pay package that has stunned and angered advocates for the 9/11 responders.

Christine LaSala, president and CEO of the city-controlled WTC Captive Insurance Co., which is managing the 9/11 fund created by Congress, gets the entity's top salary - which has never before been publicly revealed - plus $20,000 in health benefits for herself and her family, documents obtained by The Post show.

Meanwhile, teams of lawyers hired by the fund to dispute and deny more than 5,000 claims for illnesses blamed on toxic exposure at Ground Zero earn up to $550 an hour for "senior partners," the records show. Other top lawyers working for the entity earn higher rates, sources said.

The Post has reported that Captive, a self-insurance fund set up by the city in 2004 to cover claims from the WTC cleanup, had spent more than $40 million as of four months ago on overhead and lawyers. The company has refused to pay a single ill Ground Zero responder.

LaSala, 56, a former partner at insurance brokerage Johnson & Higgins, took the helm of the captive in mid-2004.

"It's amazing that Ms. LaSala gets $20,000 for health insurance while the 9/11 heroes she's fighting often have no health coverage at all," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).

"If the city wanted someone to do nothing, I'm sure they could find someone a lot cheaper than $370,000 per year," Maloney said. "This salary could have helped a lot of sick and injured workers take care of their families."

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which keeps a registry of cops suffering respiratory illness, cancer and other diseases since working at the toxic WTC pit and Fresh Kills landfill, was taken aback.

"They're paying that kind of salary to someone overseeing a campaign where lawyers are working to deprive people of benefits for the illnesses they developed at Ground Zero," Lynch said. "9/11 responders are struggling with medical bills."

LaSala's pay exceeds by $100,000 the $250,000 salary of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, the highest-paid city employee, who oversees a $14 billion budget, 110,000 employees and 1.1 million kids.

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