The man behind the Sesame Street puppet Elmo is taking a leave of absence from the programme to fight what he calls "false and defamatory" allegations that he had an improper relationship with a 16-year-old boy.
Kevin Clash, 52, is at the centre of a complaint filed against the makers of the children's show by an unnamed 23-year-old. The accuser claims they had sexual relations seven years ago, when he was under the age of consent.
The actor has admitted to "a relationship" with his accuser, but insists that it only became sexual after the man turned 18. "It was between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to make it into something it was not," he said.
A spokesman for Sesame Street said it received an initial complaint from the man in June. It launched an inquiry, which included reviewing emails he exchanged with Mr Clash, but no evidence was found to substantiate a statutory rape allegation.
"This was a personal relationship, unrelated to the workplace," read the statement. "We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action. Kevin insists these allegations are false and defamatory and has taken actions to protect his reputation. We have granted him a leave of absence to do so."
Though its lawyers met repeatedly with the accuser, Sesame Street says he failed to provide credible evidence of sexual misconduct. However, their investigation did reveal a breach of company email protocol and Mr Clash was disciplined.
The tabloid website TMZ, which broke the story, says Sesame Street has been shown an email purporting to have been sent to the alleged victim, in which Mr Clash confesses to underage sex. However, their lawyers believe it to be fake.Reuse content