Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo and star puppeteer for PBS, who the taxpayer-funded network promoted with a documentary called Being Elmo -- "has taken a leave of absence from Sesame Street in the wake of allegations he had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy" when he was 45, reported TMZ.
Clash "adamantly denies" the allegations, but "has acknowledged to TMZ he had a relationship with the young man -- but insists it only took place AFTER the accuser was an adult." The accuser met with lawyers for Sesame Workshop. Clash said "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." TMZ added:
We've learned ... Sesame Workshop lawyers recently met with a 23-year-old man who claims he and Clash began a sexual relationship 7 years ago ... when he was 16 and Clash was 45.
Sesame Workshop honchos tell TMZ ... "In June of this year, Sesame Workshop received a communication from a young man who alleged that he had a relationship with Kevin Clash beginning when he was 16-years-old. This was a personal relationship, unrelated to the workplace. We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action."
Sesame Workshop officials acknowledge to TMZ they met with the accuser twice and had a number of other communications with him.
Sources with direct knowledge of the situation tell TMZ ... after the accuser's initial meeting with Sesame Street, the accuser felt Sesame Workshop's lawyers were trying to muzzle him ... so he lawyered up with Andreozzi and Associates -- the firm that represented one of the victims in the Jerry Sandusky child rape case.
On August 15, 2012 ... Andreozzi fired off a letter to Sesame, 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," adding, "This approach places a greater value on a puppet than the well being of a young man."
Sesame Workshop officials tell TMZ ... they conducted a thorough investigation and determined the allegation of underage sex was unsubstantiated. They say they never tried to silence the accuser -- rather they asked for evidence supporting his claim, but he never produced it.