SPRING, Texas -- A search warrant reveals the inner workings of a fraudulent license plate scheme, allegedly run by a Spring, Texas woman.
Tina Maria Jimenez, 38, was arrested in March. She is charged with money laundering and unauthorized reproduction and sale of temporary tags, which are both felonies.
According to the search warrant that was filed on Aug. 2, Jimenez ran EZ Used Cars and Trucks out of a small strip center.
Investigators with the Harris County Precinct 5 Constable's Office and the Department of Motor Vehicles believe it was a front to sell fake paper license plates for profit.
Authorities were seeking information on accounts from Facebook/Meta.
The search warrant stated Jimenez would receive payment via Zelle and often communicated about the sales with her employees on a Facebook group called "HustleGroup."
EZ Used Cars and Trucks were registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Investigators discovered that during a 13-month period, from Jan. 1, 2021, through Jan. 31, 2022, Jimenez issued no buyer's tags, which means she sold no cars.
However, she issued 1,037 dealer tags. Dealer tags are mostly reserved for agents of dealerships for test drives or loaner cars. In one example, records show Jimenez issued eight vehicle tags to the same vehicle in a one-month period.
Sgt. Jose Escribano told our sister station, ABC13, those who are buying the tags are often trying to hide offenses.
"They use them for human smuggling. They use them to hide the identity of the car, which is very easy to do," he explained. "Any one of those tags can wind up on a car that does robberies, burglaries."
Escribano works for the Precinct 3 Constable's Office in Travis County, where he's on a task force. He also teaches other officers statewide how to spot fake tags and has been a voice in the work to pass House Bill 718, which will ban paper plates on all vehicles in July 2025.
The law was in response to the proliferation of fake paper plates on Texas roads in recent years.
"It's very lucrative, and you don't need anything to do it. You can go online to get a PDF and go to work," Escribano said.
According to the search warrant, Jimenez made at least $5,345.
Neither she nor her attorney responded to an ABC13 request for comment.
She is expected back in court next month.