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Ex-Elmo puppeteer faces new allegation of sex with minor

Lucas Jackson / Reuters file

Kevin Clash with Elmo in New York in 2010.

Updated 4:15 p.m. ET: NEW YORK -- The puppeteer formerly behind the "Sesame Street" character Elmo faces a new accusation of having sex with an underage boy, a week after a similar allegation prompted him to resign from the iconic public television children's program.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, a man identified only as John alleges Kevin Clash engaged in oral sex and other sex acts with him when John was 16 years old. The suit seeks at least $75,000 in damages.

The suit alleges the incident occurred in either 2000 or 2001 when John, who is from Florida, visited New York for modeling opportunities. John came to know Clash, then 40, through a telephone chat line for gays on which Clash claimed to be a 30-year-old named Craig, according to the suit.

John returned to New York when he turned 18, and he and Clash renewed the relationship, the lawsuit said.

"Mr. Clash believes the lawsuit has no merit," Clash's publicist, Risa B. Heller, said in an emailed statement.

Jeff Herman, an attorney for the accuser, read a statement on behalf of his client during a news conference in New York on Tuesday, saying, "I’m only coming forward as support for the two victims that were accused as liars. I too at first thought it was a money thing, and wanted to stay silent. But Cecil (Singleton’s) story reflects me, and deserves validation. Just say sorry so we can all move on with our lives. I pray that Kevin seeks help, because under these sexual demons is an incredible man.

Herman also read from a chapter in a manuscript penned by his client and being made public for the first time. The chapter, titled “Tickled my heart,” describes the early days of the relationship the accuser alleges to have had with Clash. "When we first met I was 16 and there was no intercourse; however lots of heavy kissing ...” he wrote.

Herman said that Clash and his client also had an "adult" relationship after the client turned 18. That relationship lasted "about a year," according to Herman.

This is the latest charge levied against Clash, now 52, who resigned on Nov. 20 from Sesame Workshop, the company behind "Sesame Street," after nearly 30 years on the show.

Clash's resignation came the same day Cecil Singleton filed a claim seeking more than $5 million in damages from Clash. Singleton claims he met the then-32-year-old puppeteer in 1993 in a gay chat room when he was 15.

The claim added that on numerous occasions over a period of years Clash engaged in sexual activity with Singleton.

The newest allegation comes about two weeks after an initial accuser, 24-year-old Sheldon Stephens, recanted his claims that Clash had sex with him when he was 16 years old. Stephens later said the relationship was consensual.

Clash had denied the allegations and acknowledged a past relationship with Stephens. He added the pair were both consenting adults at the time.

Sesame Workshop said in a statement Tuesday that it learned of the first accusation in June of this year. "Based on our own internal investigation, the use of outside investigative firms, and Kevin’s vehement denial, we found no evidence of an underage relationship. We did not know about subsequent accusations until we read about them in the press. We trust the judicial process to reach the ultimate conclusions about the truth or falsity of these allegations."

The Elmo character debuted on "Sesame Street" in 1979, 10 years after the show premiered and introduced the now-iconic characters Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Oscar the Grouch and Cookie Monster, among others, to American children.

While Clash was the third performer to animate the child-like shaggy red monster, Sesame Workshop credits him with turning Elmo into the international sensation he became.

TODAY staff contributed to this report from Reuters.

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