Suit targets man acquitted in wife's death A Burlco hearing is set this week in a bid to bar him from her assets after her fatal fall.

Posted: September 18, 2003

James Bottarini, a former Medford resident accused of pushing his wife to her death during a hike along a mountain trail in Utah six years ago, may have to defend himself against the allegation again.

Bottarini, 44, who has denied the allegation and was found not guilty of homicide-related fraud and domestic-violence charges in federal court last year, is accused in a civil complaint filed in state Superior Court of "intentionally and criminally" causing the death of his wife.

A procedural hearing on the case is set for tomorrow before Judge Ronald Bookbinder in Burlington County. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the guardian for the legal interests of the Bottarinis' two young sons, is an attempt to bar Bottarini from collecting any of the assets of his late wife, Patricia.

These include a $250,000 insurance policy taken out just months before she died and her interest, valued at more than $1 million, in her family's California real estate holdings.

Patricia Bottarini, 36, fell to her death on May 9, 1997, while hiking along Observation Point Trail in Zion National Park with her husband.

James Bottarini was quickly targeted by federal and state investigators who outlined their suspicions in a six-count indictment charging him with domestic violence, wire fraud, and giving false statements to authorities.

In effect, the indictment alleged that Bottarini had killed his wife and lied about it to collect on the life insurance and inheritance. During the trial, friends testified that the marriage had been in trouble, and that James Bottarini's business as a futures trader had been foundering.

Bottarini, now living in the Chicago area, could not be reached for comment yesterday. During two days of testimony in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City in November, he repeatedly denied allegations that he had pushed his wife to her death and insisted that their marriage had been a happy one.

The Bottarinis had been married for about eight years and had two sons, Jon and Jacqui. Both boys are living with their father.

Bottarini is also the defendant in a civil suit pending in California in which Patricia Bottarini's family is trying to bar him from claiming any assets in the real estate trust. That suit also alleges he caused his wife's death.

The civil complaint in Burlington County was filed on behalf of David H. Dugan 3d, who was appointed the guardian for the Bottarini children's interests shortly after Bottarini tried to collect on the insurance policy. The $250,000 payment has been held in escrow by the court.

Dugan has retained Michael E. Riley, a former first assistant Burlington County prosecutor now in private practice, to argue the civil action.

Riley said yesterday that he hoped to travel to Utah to review the case file, and that the civil litigation, when it moved forward, would be similar to a criminal trial.

To win a ruling barring Bottarini from collecting, Riley said, he in effect will have to prove Bottarini killed his wife.

The complaint asks that those funds be set aside for the sons, now 9 and 6. It also asks that Bottarini be removed as executor of his wife's estate, and that he repay any proceeds he has received from the estate, including any profits from the sale of the couple's Medford home.

Bottarini sold the house, on West Centennial Drive, shortly after his wife's death. The family had lived in the area for about two years.

Contact staff writer George Anastasia at 856-779-3846 or ganastasia@phillynews.com.

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