Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo on "Sesame Street," is taking a leave of absence from the show in the aftermath of allegations that he had sex with an underage boy, which surfaced Monday on the website TMZ.
The Baltimore-born Clash has vehemently denied the accusations. According to TMZ, the 23-year-old accuser says the two began a sexual relationship seven years ago, when he was 16 and Clash, 45. Clash has acknowledged he had a relationship with the man, but said that it didn't begin until after he had become an adult.
"I am a gay man. I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it, but felt it was a personal and private matter," Clash said in a statement released by his publicist Monday morning. "I had a relationship with the accuser. It was between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to characterize it as something other than what it was."
Officials at Sesame Workshop, which produces the long-running PBS children's show, released a statement saying they were contacted by the accuser in June and "took immediate action." After a "thorough investigation," they said, they found the "allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated." The relationship was personal, Sesame Workshop officials wrote, and "unrelated to the workplace."
The accuser has since contacted Andreozzi and Associates, a legal firm that represented one of the victims in the case of former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, TMZ reported. Andreozzi sent a letter to Sesame Workshop, accusing the company of trying to "discredit the victim in order to protect its employee and the image of one of its most valuable characters. …This approach places a greater value on a puppet than the well-being of a young man," according to TMZ.
A receptionist at the Harrisburg, Pa.-based law firm said she had been told to respond to inquiries about the case by saying, "The report is not accurate." She said she could provide no further comment.
Sesame officials said they met with the accuser twice and had "repeated communications with him." They told TMZ they asked for additional evidence from the accuser but never received it, the website reported.
Officials also told TMZ that they found emails between Clash and the accuser that did not include evidence of a sexual relationship, TMZ reported.
In their statement, Sesame officials said their investigation "did reveal that Kevin exercised poor judgment and violated company policy regarding Internet usage and he was disciplined."
"Kevin insists that the allegation of underage conduct is false and defamatory and he is taking actions to protect his reputation," Sesame Workshop officials wrote. "We have granted him a leave of absence to do so."
In their statement, Sesame officials assured that Elmo "is bigger than any one person and will continue to be an integral part of 'Sesame Street.' "