TODAY   |  November 13, 2012

Elmo puppeteer calls sex allegations ‘defamatory’

Kevin Clash, who voices one of TVs most beloved children’s characters, has taken a leave of absence after facing accusations of an inappropriate sexual relationship with a man who claims he was underage, but Clash is maintaining his innocence. NBC’s Mara Schiavocampo reports.

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>> man behind elmo is taking a leave of absence from " sesame street why the "to deal with very serious allegations. nbc's mara schiavocampo is here with more on this.

>> reporter: good morning. this would be no elmo without robert clash but the puppeteer who created elmo is coming forward after a man claimed forward saying he had an intimate relationship with clash while he was still a minor.

>> reporter: though he's best known as the voice of elmo , revered puppeteer kevin clash is now speaking out in his own defense against accusations of sexual misconduct. in a statement monday " sesame street " said they were contacted in june by a then 23-year-old man who alleged he had a relationship beginning when he was 16 years old with kevin clash . in his own statement, 52-year-old clash acknowledged having a relationship with the man but says 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.

>> when you look at the stories here, clash and his accuser are not all that far apart. the only question is did the relationship begin at age 16 or age 18 or later?

>> reporter: " sesame street " says they found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated but also found clash violated company policy regarding internet usage , and he was disciplined. clash created elmo and has been performing as the lovable muppet for almost 30 years, racking up 24 emmy awards along the way.

>> elmo wishes he could go, too.

>> reporter: puppeteer working on " sesame street " was a lifelong wishful filled, something he talked about in the 2011 documentary "being elmo ."

>> when i was 9 years old, it was just a dream that i had, wow, i wish that i could work with the muppets.

>> reporter: over the years, elmo has made his way from " sesame street " to main street as the most popular muppet, often appearing on other tv shows .

>> yes, elmo loves to dance.

>> reporter: and flying off toy store shelves.

>> elmo is the franchise. i've had parents tell me that mommy or daddy was not the first word their child said. elmo was the first word their child said.

>> reporter: clash is now on indefinite leave, saying i am taking a break to deal with this false and defamatory allegation, an absence that will be undoubtedly felt on " sesame street ."

>> there isn't anybody with more sway or more influence in the studio than kevin. he directs. he executive produces. i can't imagine there being a modern day " sesame street " without kevin clash .

>> reporter: now, we reached out to the accuser's attorney for comment, but he didn't spont respond. as for elmo , " sesame street " says he's bigger than one person and will remain an integral part of the show.

>> mara schiavocampo, thank you.