By Susan Edelman New York Post
High-ranking staffers in the city Medical Examiner’s Office who collected ghoulish trophies from 9/11 and the deadly Staten Island Ferry crash got away with it — and one even got a big promotion.
Barbara Butcher, who was the director of investigations during the September 11 terror attacks, took home a plane’s exit handle, a witness says.
“Her eyes lit up,” said Kenneth Dotson, an ME investigator, recalling the moment Butcher opened a big brown evidence bag that an NYPD cop had delivered to the Ground Zero morgue.
“She said, ‘This will make for good conversation on the coffee table.’ ”
ME staffers still fume over the blasphemous breach, saying it underscores a need to overhaul the troubled agency, which recently has come under fire for hundreds of rape cases in which ME staff possibly botched DNA evidence.
“Leadership must change, and a new management team . . . should be appointed,” a city consultant concluded in May.
Butcher, 62, was promoted to chief of staff, with a $166,879 salary, by Chief Medical Examiner Charles Hirsch, who retired this year.
“I would have been fired and prosecuted” for taking a personal memento from a death scene, said Dotson, who retired in 2007 after 20 years with the agency.
In the days after 9/11, Dotson said, an NYPD officer brought the bag to the ME’s Ground Zero morgue, saying, “This is for Barbara Butcher.”
Dotson phoned Butcher to tell her about the delivery. “She said, ‘OK. Great.’ She was expecting it.”
Dotson later watched her open it. “It looked like part of the airplane door, the handle that you push down, broken in half,” he said. “She was excited more than anything.”
He reported the incident in late 2005, after the city Department of Investigation accused ME technology chief Natarjan Venkataram and his assistant/girlfriend, Rosa Abreu, of embezzling $13 million meant for computer services to ID 9/11 victims; $6.1 million was recovered.
But the city never found the metal piece. Butcher claimed she took it home “for one or two days before returning it,” says a DOI report obtained by The Post.
She “could not recall” who gave it to her, when or how she got it, or to whom she returned it, the report says. She “conceded it was ‘wrong.’”
Hirsch later took Butcher with him to Thailand after the 2004 tsunami. In a retirement tribute, she wrote they enjoyed a weekend off, snorkeling on a remote island: “So much fun he did not want to leave.”
In another case, Bronx ME investigator Robert Yee took a gaff hook from the Andrew Barberi ferry, which crashed into the dock on Oct. 15, 2003, killing 11 people.
He also displayed a photo of himself smiling while holding the hook, which was recovered, officials said.
Yee, who made $108,424 in 2012 — including $24,000 in overtime — received a week off without pay as punishment, staffers said
Butcher and Yee did not return calls for comment.
ME spokeswoman Ellen Borakove declined to answer questions.