YO,

AKON

, can you hear me now? That's basically what Verizon Wireless said to the hip- hop star when the company pulled out as presenting sponsor of

Gwen Stefani

's Sweet Escape tour, for which Akon was the opening act.

The move stems from an incident last month in Trinidad, reports Billboard.com, when Akon jumped, bumped and humped a 15-year-old fan invited on stage to dance with him. Footage of the raunchy moves of course made it online, at which point Verizon seemed surprised to learn they weren't sponsoring dancers Bobby and Cissy from Lawrence Welk's old show.

Not only did Verizon back out of the tour, the company also deep-sixed Akon ringtones and his Wireless V Cast TV spots.

The Akon Trinidad show, by the way, had no relation to the Stefani tour, so the big loser in this is Gwen, whose decision to let Akon open for her cost her a couple million.

Stefani manager Jim Guerinot told Billboard.com, "We're just in the beginning stages of evaluating" the impact of Verizon's move. Regarding the presenting sponsorship, "We're surprised and shocked they've backed out of it.

"Akon has been a perfect gentleman on this tour," Guerinot added. "His show has at best been a PG show. Children of all ages have been attending. We have had no complaints - nothing but satisfied people. And I would say that we're shocked that Verizon would drop Gwen Stefani as part of this whole debate."

In this post-Imus universe, corporate America really needs to develop some stones - and some principles that don't change with the wind. Was Akon's dance wrong, Verizon, or are you merely afraid someone will think it was wrong and start protesting? Yes, switch to Cingular because Verizon supports that nasty Akon.

Sure his act is crude, and probably not appropriate for communions, cotillions or the Union League, but Akon's simulated sex on stage wasn't any different from all the other fake fornicating and crotch grabbing that goes on at concerts or in videos.

If you don't want to hitch yourself to Akon's street cred, then sponsor the Josh Groban tour.

Aunt Bee says, 'Vote for Andy'

Common sense prevails in Madison, Wis. Judge John Shabaz ruled Friday that William Harold Fenrick, who changed his name to Andy Griffith and ran for sheriff, did not harm Andy Samuel Griffith, the actor who played Mayberry's folksy sheriff, Andy Taylor, on the "Andy Griffith Show."

Shabaz dismissed the lawsuit brought by the real Andy Griffith.

The suit claimed Fenrick violated trademark and copyright laws and the actor's privacy after he changed his name last year to Andrew Jackson Griffith.

Gee, we're surprised the estate of President Andrew Jackson didn't also sue.

The lawsuit was filed the day after the independent candidate came in a distant third in his race for sheriff of Grant County, in southwestern Wisconsin.

During the campaign, Griffith played up his name by comparing himself to the TV character. Denouncing law enforcement practices such as speed traps, he declared: "They never did unethical stuff like that in Mayberry!"

Shabaz said the candidate did not violate federal trademark law because he did not use the name in a commercial transaction but instead "to seek elective office, fundamental First Amendment-protected speech."

"Plaintiff's campaign attempted to take advantage of a connection to Sheriff Taylor's honesty and ethical behavior - hardly connections which would suggest damage to plaintiff's reputation," he wrote.

Paris update

* Paris Hilton rehired her longtime publicist Elliot Mintz yesterday, less than two days after she reportedly fired him.

* For her appeal, Paris is reportedly replacing her high-priced lawyers with a lawyer who specializes in traffic cases. Most experts say her appeal is groundless.

* Good news for Paris is that if she behaves in the pokey, TMZ.

com reveals, she could be released a few days early. TMZ.

com says Paris is eligible for a federally mandated "Good Time/Work Time" credit, eligible to inmates sentenced to 11 days or more as long as she spends her time behind bars "in an acceptable manner."

Paris could also be released sooner if jails become overcrowded and non-violent offenders like her are released to free space.

TMZ.com reports that Paris will get a bunkmate and she will be allowed to do her time in a 24-person pod for "special needs inmates," which must irk people with real "special needs."

* Paris-ites meanwhile have posted a petition on the Internet urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to pardon her.

"No heiress deserves to go to jail," said FreeParis.org co-founder Kyle Vincent. Another supporter wrote, "I love Paris. She is way too fabulous for jail . . . and, by the way, stripes are out this summer."

It's all good fun until you're the one on Sunset Boulevard one night and Paris is speeding toward you with her headlights off.

And no license.

* A spokesman for Schwarzen-

egger told the Associated Press it was too early for the governor to get involved. "We'll treat this as we would any other case of this nature, but it would be premature for the governor to get involved until the individual has exhausted his or her judicial remedies," spokesman Aaron McLear said yesterday.

The petition, which had more than 900 signatures yesterday morning, urges the Governator to pardon Paris because she provides "beauty and excitement to (most of) our otherwise mundane lives." So? Forests, coral and icebergs provide beauty and excitement and we're not doing anything for them. *

Daily News wire services contributed to this report.