Ground Zero Funds Dwindle as Buffet Takeover Plan Stalls

By Susan Edelman New York Post

Mayor de Blasio is sitting on a controversial proposal to let billionaire Warren Buffett take over a $300 million taxpayer fund expected to pay future claims by Ground Zero workers stricken with cancer.

Under a plan hatched by the outgoing Bloomberg administration, Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, would get $270 million from the WTC Captive Insurance Co., a city-governed entity. In return, it would convert the funds into a $600 million private insurance policy and handle any claims.

More than six months later, de Blasio has yet to take command of the matter or even appoint new members to the fund’s board running the fund, The Post has learned.

Meanwhile, money intended to defend the city and pay Ground Zero victims may be going to waste.

The WTC Captive had $326.6 million as of March 31, but the sum is dwindling, records show.

It continues to spend about $5 million a year on staff, consultants and other operating expenses, including the $234,500 salary of CEO Christine LaSala, plus fringe benefits.

But she and the staff have virtually nothing to do.

Since settling with more than 10,000 Ground Zero responders and recovery workers, only one suit remains active: That of ­Fernando Venegas, 53, an asbestos handler who helped clean the Deutsche Bank and other buildings and got mesothelioma in December 2011.

The incurable cancer typically takes 15 years or longer to develop.

More such cases among Ground Zero workers are expected to surface in 2016 and beyond.

The WTC Captive’s remaining money would be used to pay those cancer claimants. Handing over the liability, and the funds, to Berkshire Hathaway would close the nonprofit.

But members of Congress have raised concerns about turning over federal funds to a for-profit enterprise such as Buffett’s.

In similar deals, Berkshire Hathaway has bought up tens of billions of dollars in asbestos and pollution liabilities from other insurers.

A recent Scripps News investigation alleged that Berkshire subsidiaries National Indemnity Co. and Resolute Management Inc. wrongfully delay or deny compensation claimants while investing the money.

Berkshire insists it has a “worldwide reputation for full, fair and prompt payment of claims.”

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, urged de Blasio to address the issue.

“The city must take action to get these remaining funds to the police officers and other workers still suffering with 9/11-related illnesses,” he told The Post.

“The WTC Captive has already wasted millions on management, overhead and creating roadblocks to those deserving compensation,” he said. “Whether this money is publicly or privately managed, the city must ensure that the largest possible share reaches those who sacrificed their health in service to their city.”

De Blasio’s office would not answer questions but ­issued a statement.

“While we have not made a final determination, our goal is to protect the interests of the City of New York while ensuring that victims are treated fairly and are able to pursue the maximum amount of compensation that may be owed to them,” it read.

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