Kevin Clash, the voice behind Sesame Street‘s Elmo, is on leave of absence from the show amid claims that he engaged in a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy — an allegation the 52-year-old puppeteer is denying.
According to a statement released by Sesame Workshop, the now-23-year-old man approached execs back in June with the claim. After conducting a “thorough investigation,” the company “found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated.” However, “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 concluded its statement by saying, “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.”
Clash, meanwhile, issued a statement to TMZ saying, “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.”