Kevin Clash, the Sesame Street puppeteer who voices the character Elmo, has taken a leave of absence from the programme amid allegations he had a sexual relationship with a teenage boy.
Clash, 52, denies the allegations he had a relationship with a 16-year-old boy seven years ago and has decided to take a leave of absence from his work to fight the claims.
The accusations were made in June by a now 23-year-old man. Officials at Sesame Workshop - the non-profit educational organisation behind the popular children's TV show - said they have conducted their own investigation and concluded allegations of underage conduct are "unsubstantiated".
Clash's employees did admit the 52-year-old, who has voiced Elmo since 1985, exercised "poor judgement" in having a relationship with then accuser, but Clash is adamant this only happened when the accuser was a legal adult.
Clash told American gossip website TMZ: "I had a relationship with [the accuser]. It was between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to make it into something it was not."
A statement from the Sesame Workshop said: "In June of this year, Sesame Workshop received a communication from a then 23 year-old-man who alleged that he had a relationship beginning when he was 16 years old with Kevin Clash, a Sesame Workshop puppeteer who performs as Elmo.
"We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action. We met with the accuser twice and had repeated communications with him. We met with Kevin, who denied the accusation.
"We also conducted a thorough investigation and found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated.
"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.
"Kevin insists that the allegation of underage conduct is false and defamatory and he is taking actions to protect his reputation. We have granted him a leave of absence to do so."
Sesame Street officials added that the much loved character of Elm would continue to be involved with the show.
A spokesman added: "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."
In 2006, Clash published an autobiography, My Life as a Furry Red Monster, and was the subject of the 2011 documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey.
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