The new king of Wall Street?

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When people talk about the most influential bankers on Wall Street, they usually talk about the CEOs of the premiere companies, whether broker-dealers, hedge funds or private equity funds. They're never talking about the head of a middle-market broker dealer.

But Jefferies' Richard Handler has changed that.

For the second time in three years, he has emerged as the top paid CEO in the industry. For work rendered in 2012, the Jefferies board gave Handler $45.2 million in pay, according to the SEC's calculation of compensation. This means he's better paid than even the likes of JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

The 2012 package breaks down to $1 million in salary, $5 million in cash and $39 million in restricted stock grants that will vest over three years. In 2010, Handler took home a pay package worth $47 million.

So the big question is, did he deserve it? The board certainly thinks so.

Handler is credited with saving his company from a short attack in the wake of charges from a small credit rating company that it was overexposed to European debt, not unlike MFGlobal. Handler also deserves credit for engineering a sale of the company to Leucadia, which will leave him as the top executive of the combined company. What's more, Jefferies shares have been kind to shareholders, having risen more than 150 percent since he took the helm in 2001.

Marketwatch opines that, "Wall Street pay isn't always about scale or performance. It's about how much shareholders will complain. Jefferies' stock rally, the premium and the financial boost of the Leucadia means that any criticism is coming from those who aren't in on the game."

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