UPDATE: The unidentified man who accused the voice of Sesame Street character Elmo of having sex with him while he was underage has retracted his allegations.
Kevin Clash, the actor who voices Elmo for the children's program Sesame Street, has taken a leave of absence after he says he was falsely accused of having sex with an underage boy.
TMZ on Monday reported that lawyers for Sesame Workshop had met with a 23-year-old man who claimed he began having an affair with Clash at the age of 16.
Clash, who was 45 at the time of the alleged affair, has insisted that the relationship only began after the boy was legally an adult.
"We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action. We met with the accuser twice and had repeated communications with him," Sesame Workshop said in a statement on Monday. "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."
The statement went on to say that Clash had been granted a leave of absence so he could take actions to "protect his reputation."
Andreozzi and Associates, who represents the accuser, has asserted that Sesame Workshop tried to "discredit the victim in order to protect its employee and the image of one of its most valuable characters... This approach places a greater value on a puppet than the well being of a young man."
The Elmo character has been voiced by at least three actors since 1979. While Clash is credited with popularizing the character, Sesame Workshop has vowed that Elmo will continue to be a part of the program.
"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," the nonprofit educational organization said.