Elmo puppeteer, Kevin Clash, takes leave of absence amid underage sex allegations

Kevin Clash, the Emmy Award-winning puppeteer behind "Sesame Street's'' Elmo, said Monday that he is taking a leave of absence following allegations he had a sexual relationship with an underage boy.

Clash Monday conceded he had the relationship, but denied it began when the partner was 16. "I am a gay man," Clash, 52, said in a statement. "I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it, but felt it was a personal and private matter. I had a relationship with the accuser. It was between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to characterize it as something other than what it was."

TMZ.com reported Monday that the accuser has retained the law firm Andreozzi and Associates, which represented one of Jerry Sandusky's child-rape victims. Sesame Workshop issued a statement saying it was first contacted in June by the accuser, who by then had turned 23.

"We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action," Sesame Workshop, which produces "Sesame Street," said. "We met with the accuser twice and had repeated communications with him. We met with Kevin, who denied the accusation. We also conducted a thorough investigation and found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated. 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."

Clash, who joined "Sesame Street" full-time in 1985, is divorced with a grown daughter.

Andreozzi and Associates did not return a request seeking comment.

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