Sheldon Stephens, the first man to claim that “Sesame Street” puppeteer Kevin Clash had an underage relationship with him, filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the former voice of Elmo.
Stephens is the fourth man to sue the Turners Station native, but in November he was the first to make his allegations public.
Clash, 52, has denied all of the allegations. He has said he and Stephens had a relationship after Stephens became an adult. Stephens soon retracted his claim, calling the relationship adult and consensual.
But Miami-based attorney Jeff Herman, who now represents all four men with civil cases against Clash, said Stephens is again claiming that the relationship started when he was underage.
Clash resigned from “Sesame Street” in late November after Cecil Singleton, a 24-year-old New York native, became Clash’s second accuser and the first to file a lawsuit against him. Two other alleged victims followed suit. Their names are identified in complaints only by initials.
All four men making legal claims against Clash say that the sex was consensual but that they were not old enough to legally consent to or comprehend the relationships, which took place in New York and Florida and date back to 1995. Stephens, like all the alleged victims, is seeking damages of more than $75,000.
“All these victims have alleged to me that Kevin Clash was this father figure who offered to help them and groom them with attention and fairly quickly it turned into a sexual relationship,” Herman said.
Michael G. Berger, Clash’s lawyer, called the latest suit meritless like the other claims, which he has sought to dismiss on the basis that he believes the statute of limitations for filing claims in New York has expired. Stephens alleges that he had sexual contact with Clash in New York as well.
In an attempt to avoid any similar argument in Stephens’ case, Herman filed his federal lawsuit in Pennsylvania, where Stephens is from. Alleged victims have until they turn 30 to file a sexual abuse claim under Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations.
Berger questioned Stephens’ story.
“Sheldon Stephens, the plaintiff, has already admitted in writing that he had ‘an adult consensual relationship’ with Mr. Clash,” Berger said in a statement. “Mr. Clash continues to deny any wrongdoing, and we intend to defend this case forcefully.”
Early this month, Berger asked a U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of New York to throw out the three prior lawsuits, saying the allegations go back a decade or more — beyond the statute of limitations for bringing a civil sexual abuse claim in New York. In New York, Berger wrote in a motion, reparations are limited to six years after the alleged abuse or three years after a person turns 18.
According to Berger, Singleton lost his right to file a claim after May 2009, while the other two defendants who also filed their claims in New York lost their rights several years before that.
Berger wrote in a legal memo to support his motion that “none of the plaintiffs has any cognizable claim under either of the two possible theories provided for by the statute of limitations.”
Herman said he believes Berger’s motion on “technical grounds” will fail because he interprets New York law to allow alleged victims to seek claims within six years “from the time they connect their injuries to the abuse” or realize they have been victimized.
Stephens, who is 24, claims in his lawsuit that he was 16 when he met Clash at a social networking event for models and actors. Clash told him he would help him with his acting career, the lawsuit stated, and told him to look Clash up on the Internet to see his credentials.
The age of consent in New York is 17.
Clash asked Stephens to send him modeling pictures that he could pass on to people around the industry, and the pair kept in touch over the phone, the complaint said.
“From the earliest conversations,” the lawsuit said, “Clash led Sheldon to believe that he was interested in having a sexual relationship with the teenage Sheldon.”
The suit claims Clash sent chauffeurs to pick Stephens up in Harrison, Pa., and bring him back to his New York apartment, where they had sex.
“This pattern of sexual activity between Kevin Clash and Sheldon continued over a period of years,” the complaint alleged.
On one occasion, a male chauffeur drove Clash and Stephens to the chauffeur’s apartment for a “crystal meth sex party,” according to the lawsuit. When asked about the allegations involving drugs, Berger did not respond.
A previous version of this story incorrectly named the Pennsylviania town to which chauffeurs were sent to collect Stephens.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun