A fourth man claims he was involved in a sexual relationship with Kevin Clash, the puppeteer and voice of Elmo, when he was a teenager and has filed what marks the third lawsuit submitted against him and the first one that could be made into a criminal case.
Clash's attorney Michael Berger said in a statement carried by the Associated Press that "the lawsuit is without merit and we will vigorously defend the case and Mr. Clash's reputation." The fourth person filed the papers in Florida on Monday, December 10, a month after the controversy began.
The man, who is 33 years old and identifies himself as S.M., claims that when he was about 16 or 17, he and Clash became friends after the puppeteer approached him on Miami Beach. S.M. said that at the time, he had been molested by a teacher and was thinking about running away from home.
Clash, the lawsuit stated, had promised to be a dad to the teen. In 1996, the puppeteer allegedly paid for a plane ticket for the teenager to use to fly to New York to visit him, after which their relationship became sexual, the Associated Press quoted the lawsuit as saying.
Monday's lawsuit could involve criminal charges because the lawsuit states that Clash transported S.M. across state lines for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity, the news wire reported. The previous cases filed against the puppeteer were civil suits.
The man's attorney, Jeff Herman, also represents two other men who claim Clash had sex with them when they were underage teenagers. He told the Associated Press: "These are all vulnerable boys. None of them had father figures in their lives and they were looking for that father figure.
A month ago, Clash, 52, took a leave of absence from his job at "Sesame Street," which features Elmo, to deal with allegations of underage misconduct involving a 16-year-old boy. The accuser, now 23, later recanted, echoing the puppeteer's stance that the two were involved when he was of legal age and that the relationship was consensual.
On November 20, a second accuser, Cecil Singleton, filed a $5 million sexual abuse lawsuit against Clash, saying they had a relationship when he was 15. Clash then resigned from "Sesame Street," saying he would resolve his personal matters privately.
The man, who was born in 1984 and calls himself John, says that when he was 16, Clash had contacted him on a gay chat line, using a different name. They became friends and John flew to New York to visit the puppeteer at his New York apartment. He says the two had sex and continued a sexual relationship and that he moved to New York after he graduated from high school.
The attorney for S.M. told the news wire that the accusers he presents didn't seek legal action sooner because they were afraid, adding: "Because they participated in the sex they feel like they're doing something wrong ... they're ashamed, they're embarrassed, not something they really want to talk about," he said.
Following the publication of the first man's accusation, the puppeteer, who has a young adult daughter with his ex-wife, came out publicly as a gay man, the New York Times reported.
"I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it, but felt it was a personal and private matter," the outlet quoted him as saying.
A Sesame Workshop executive told the New York Times that Clash had helped find other puppeteers to play Elmo in his absence and that his resignation will likely not affect production of "Sesame Street."
The actor has portrayed the furry red character Elmo, who has also been featured in films and on other shows and also spurred the popular "Tickle Me Elmo" doll, since 1984. He won eight individual Daytime Emmys for the role.
Clash has also provided the voice of Baby Sinclair from the 1990s series "Dinosaurs," Splinter from the original "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movies and several characters, including a Fiery and Ambrosias the sheepdog, in the 1987 cult film "Labyrinth."