The puppeteer who performs as the Sesame Street character Elmo has been granted a leave of absence from his job amid allegations he had an improper relationship with a 16-year-old boy, the Sesame Workshop tells PEOPLE.
Kevin Clash, who voices Elmo on the popular children’s show, has denied the allegations, which were first reported by TMZ.com. According to report, Clash, who was 45-years-old at the time, says he had a consensual relationship with a man, who is now 23, that occurred when the accuser was of legal age. (The legal age of consent in New York, where Sesame Street films, is 17.)
Sesame Workshop officials said in a statement released to PEOPLE that they have investigated the claims and found that the underage sex allegations could not be substantiated.
“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 company said in a statement.
Clash, now 52, told 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.”
Sesame Workshop officials told PEOPLE that the character Elmo would survive despite the scandal, saying, “Elmo is bigger than any one person and will continue to be an integral part ofSesame Street to engage, educate and inspire children around the world.”
• Reporting by CHARLOTTE TRIGGS
The man who accused Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo, of having sex with him while he was underage stands by his story, claims he was pressured into recanting it, and is now interviewing lawyers to help him undo his settlement.