Kevin Clash, Elmo puppeteer, accused of having relationship with juvenile

Kevin Clash, the man known as the voice of Elmo, has taken a leave of absence from Sesame Street in the wake of allegation he had a sexual relationship with a juvenile.

TMZ says{ }Clash denies the claims, but lawyers representing the show have met with the 23-year-old man who says he and Clash began a relationship seven years ago.

Clash has reportedly acknowledged to TMZ he had a relationship with the young man, but says it only took place after the accuser was an adult. He has taken a leave of absence from the show.

"I had a relationship with the accuser," Clash said in a statement he released. "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."

Sex with a person under 17 is a felony in New York if the perpetrator is at least 21. It was unclear where the relationship took place, and there is no record of any criminal charge against Clash in the state.

Clash, a 52-year-old divorced father of a grown daughter, added, "I am a gay man. I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it, but felt it was a personal and private matter.

Arlington resident Thomas Iveson says he's not sure the allegations will taint the image of Elmo held by children globally.

"When they see Elmo, they're not thinking, 'Oh, behind Elmo is a guy who may be having a relationship that is not kosher," the father of two said. "No kid in the planet would ever dream of that. It would only bother adults. It should bother adults. But it's totally separate of kid's lives and their perception of the show."

Attorneys for the accuser claim the show attempted to silence their client. But officials with Sesame Street Workshop say the allegations of underage sex were unfounded.

Sesame Street Workshop issued the following statement about their investigation into the allegations:

"In June of this year, Sesame Workshop received a communication from a then 23 year old man who alleged that he had a relationship beginning when he was 16 years old with Kevin Clash, a Sesame Workshop puppeteer who performs as Elmo.

We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action. 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...

...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."

ABC7 visited the Cantonsville home of Clash's ex-wife and daughter. Their neighbors would not go on camera but said Clash was a very friendly neighbor when he lived in the home. They added they don't believe the allegations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.