Puppeteer Kevin Clash and Elmo talk at the Apple Store Upper West Side on November 20, 2011 in New York City. (Photo: Getty Images)
Ever since Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney vowed to cut taxpayer funding to PBS-- and therefore Sesame Street-- if elected, it seems as though the children's show has never been out of the news for more than a few days.
In the most recent development, the voice actor for the beloved character "Elmo," Kevin Clash, is accused of having sexual relations with a 16-year old boy.
A member of the Sesame Street crew for more than twenty years, Clash has admitted a relationship with the accuser, but denies that it began when he was underage.
The Baltimore Sun has more:
The 23-year-old accuser says the two began a sexual relationship seven years ago, when he was 16 and Clash, 45. Clash has acknowledged he had a relationship with the young man, TMZ reported, but insisted it didn't begin until after he had become an adult.
"I had a relationship" with the accuser, TMZ reported Clash as saying. "It was between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to make it into something it was not."
Officials at Sesame Workshop, which produces the long-running PBS children's show, released a statement saying they were contacted by the accuser in June and "took immediate action." After a "thorough investigation," they said, they found the "allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated." The relationship was personal, Sesame Workshop officials wrote, and "unrelated to the workplace." [Emphasis added]
Email communications between the two were discovered, TMZ adds, but there were no references to underage sex. Sesame Street officials believe an email the accuser has recently produced-- which seems to validate his story-- is fraudulent since he never mentioned it before.
But the accuser is not going away. According to reports, he has contacted Andreozzi and Associates, which represented a number of the victims in the Jerry Sandusky case, and is aggressively pursuing the matter.
The firm reportedly sent a letter to Sesame Workshop, charging the company with attempting to "discredit the victim in order to protect its employee and the image of one of its most valuable characters."
They added: "This approach places a greater value on a puppet than the well being of a young man."
Clash has been disciplined for "poor judgment" with regard to company internet policy, Sesame officials said in a statement, adding that they have granted him a leave of absence while he takes "actions to protect his reputation."
Here is video of Clash doing the familiar "Elmo" voice:
Even Nightline profiled Clash, in which they revealed how he had an early obsession with puppets and has what the voice actor described as "Peter Pan Syndrome":
This is a breaking story. Updates will be added.