Kevin Clash, the Emmy-winning puppeteer famed as the voice for beloved Sesame Street Muppet "Elmo," is denying claims that he had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy.
Sesame Workshop issued a statement Monday saying that a 23-year-old man contacted the company in June alleging he and the 52-year-old Clash had a relationship seven years prior, said Eonline.
Workshop reps say they met with the unidentified accuser twice and communicated with him on repeated occasions. They also met with Clash, who adamantly denied wrongdoing.
"[Sesame Workshop] conducted a thorough investigation and found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated," the company says in a statement. "Although this was a personal relationship unrelated to the workplace, our investigation did reveal that Kevin exercised poor judgment and violated company policy regarding Internet usage and he was disciplined."
The Workshop did not disclose the nature of the transgressions. But the statement adds that "Clash insists the allegations are false and was granted a leave of absence from Sesame Street to take action and protect his reputation," KOKH-TV reported.
No word how long that leave will last or whether he'll take legal action, such as filing a defamation suit.
Clash said his relationship with the accuser was "between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to make it into something it was not." (The legal age of consent in New York, where Sesame Street films, is 17.)
As for the future of Elmo? Sesame Street reps stress the controversy has nothing to do with the furry red Muppet and his squeaky-voiced self won't be disappearing from the Street:
"Elmo is bigger than any one person and will continue to be an integral part of Sesame Street to engage, educate and inspire children around the world, as it has for 40 years."