'Sesame Street' Elmo puppeteer takes leave amid sex scandal
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The puppeteer and voice behind the character Elmo on "Sesame Street" has taken a leave of absence from the children's television show following allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy, producers said on Monday.
New York-based Sesame Workshop said in a statement that its own inquiry concluded that the claim of underage sexual conduct was unsubstantiated, and that puppeteer Kevin Clash has denied any wrongdoing and called the allegation "false and defamatory."
But the company said Clash, 52, was disciplined after an internal investigation showed he "exercised poor judgment and violated company policy regarding Internet usage."
The Sesame Workshop statement said the puppeteer was "taking actions to protect his reputation" and that Sesame Workshop has "granted him a leave of absence to do so."
Neither Clash nor his personal publicist was immediately available for comment.
CNN quoted a statement from Clash acknowledging a relationship with his accuser but denying he had sexual contact with a minor.
"I am a gay man. I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it," it quoted him as saying. "I had a relationship with the accuser, it was between two consenting adults, and I am deeply saddened that he is characterizing it as something other than what it was."
The statement went on to say, "I'm taking a break from Sesame Workshop to deal with this false and defamatory allegation."
Sesame Workshop said the matter came to its attention when it received a communication in June from accuser, now aged 23, alleging that he had a relationship with Clash beginning when he was 16 years old. Continued...